Now that I’m back at work (which is fine, on the whole), we’re faced once again with the logistical and financial hot mess that is making sure our children are looked after while we are both working. Leila starting nursery school has opened up a whole new level of complexity. Dimly, I had imagined that your child beginning school meant things got simpler, childcare-wise, but did you know that schools kick out at 3pm? Oh you did? Nobody told me. (After her first full day at nursery, I congratulated Leila on staying for a whole day, and she replied ‘That wasn’t a whole day!’, which was a fair point, all told).
I like to think of childcare as reassuringly expensive, but with two kids, the cost implications are eye-watering. So it made sense to get together with some friends, to juggle at least some of the pre- and after-school childcare merry go round.
And so, each Monday, I have one extra kid before school, and two after school- lovely little people of whom I am very fond. It’s like vodka night at the student union, with as much singing, very loud talking over one another, and falling over. And brawling, of course. Oh, the rows over who gets to go on the buggy board (we have resorted to a regimented routine, in which, at certain landmarks in the walk home, I bark ‘Leila off! Sam on! Anna move round!’) and, inexplicably, who gets to open the front gate. One Monday morning, Leila and Sam battled for the entire journey TO school over who would open the gate AFTER school, ie six hours hence. Still, it kept them occupied on the walk, and I got to feel like I’d outwitted a 3 and 4 year old (and isn’t that just the best feeling?) by not telling them it was actually Anna’s turn, mwa ha haa.
I admit to a certain amount of trepidation at the prospect of omgfourkids each Monday as school kicking-out time looms. Sort of the like the feeling one gets when one is shuffling towards a plane door to take a skydive, perhaps. And yes, it does have it’s less relaxing moments. One week I realised I had dealt with four different types of poo in the space of an hour (dog, child, child, baby), my life fast becoming Fifty Shades of Shit, whilst Gate Wars had reached epic proportions. Then my (I thought) soothing rendition of the theme from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory as I prepared a snack for the drunk students, was met with a chorus of ‘boring! Stop singing!’ from all three.
But it’s also joyful, it really is. Like when, on the walk home, they all started to sing (in different keys, and starting at different times) a song they were learning that day called A Bird’s Eye View. The lyrics had gone awry somewhere along the line (ranging from ‘A Burtside pewwww’ to ‘a bird’s sign blue’), but blow me, it was cute. Sam has taken to calling me, slightly alarmingly, ‘Becky baby’, because he found it hilarious that I call Leila ‘baby’ even though she is clearly not a baby. And Anna will always deliver a pearl of wisdom or two, in a serious voice, a sort of Drunk Thought For The Day: ‘we don’t call them farts, we call them trumps‘
(Jeez, sorry about all the bodily functions in this post- that’s what happens when you hang out with under fives, whose idea of a hilarious skit is to sing ‘bum bum bum bum bummy bum’ to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle.)
When I was a child, we used to hang out a lot with two other families who lived on our street. My parents actually did have four children, those crazy hippies (joke, mum and dad, joke!), and eventually were both out at work. The other two families also had four kids apiece. So we spent a lot of time going between the houses of our friends, and with them at ours, in a rabble of up to twelve children. At the time I thought it was all for our own enjoyment. Now I see it was, in part, the delicately poised house of cards that is childcare, which with one ill-timed bout of norovirus can come cascading down, wreaking havoc.
What I’m saying is, despite the juggling act, which involves multiple texts, spreadsheets, graphs and algorithms, I’m glad that my kids will grow up feeling part of a community, and playing with their friends after school. And I’m glad I get to be closely involved with my friend’s kid’s lives, aided by just a tiny shot of neat gin every Monday afternoon.