Dawn of a New Era: Pre-School

20140106-223756.jpgSunday evening, five to midnight, found me learning a new skill. I was attempting to write my son’s name in biro on tiny white spaces on the washing/brand labels in his clothing. I discovered:

* labels don’t stay put while you are writing on them
* trying to keep them in one place means your fingers are taking up 2/3 of the available space to write on
* most labels somehow magically prevent loops and up-strokes, allowing only a kind of katakana-capital-letter-hieroglyphic writing

I also put his name on a tired tupperware pot filled with three (3) mini rice cakes (apple flavour), one (1) dried apricot, a little pack of raisins and a broken Jacobs Water cracker. I learned another lesson when I examined the pot again in the morning: you don’t put dried fruit and crumbly crackers in the same pot as they amalgamate into a new and unappetising species overnight.

I filled in all the forms, and discovered – too late – that I should have photocopied his birth certificate. Which also meant finding his birth certificate. I decided this would just have to wait a few more days.

Then, I did the washing up.

Then I had run out of busy work and had to stop and realise: my son was going to start pre-school in the morning. Every morning. From now on until eternity.

I suddenly understood why I had been feeling so sad all day. Optimist that I am, up to that point I had only been looking at the advantages and benefits of having mornings free of increasingly articulate demands for snacks, Team Umizoomi and general undivided attention; free of trying to tactfully break up tiny-toddler-crushing hugs that are meant well but could cause serious injury, possibly death; free of constant denial for the need of a toilet trip, followed by yet another clean pair of trousers and another load of washing to put on; free of sudden rage, tears, remorse, saying sorry, then juice and hugs (and that is just me). In short, mornings when my confident, independent little girl can play and then (blissfully) nap, while I do freelance work, lesson prep and writing. It had all sounded so good up until then. But suddenly it hit me that these would also be mornings without sudden sneak attacks of affection, without puzzles and games with a little boy that gets these things now, without a window into his hilarious imagination, without a little voice at my elbow, offering to help me with the chores.

I smoothed his labelled clothes once more, added another few pairs of clean underpants to his George Pig backpack and went to bed. All night I had anxiety dreams in which I just could not leave the pre-school, or had said I would look after a friend’s child at the same school but lost him, and most importantly, in which I had forgotten to label an essential item of clothing.

At 6.45, the Boy woke up full of excitement, untroubled by visions of disaster. He was looking forward to school. Once we arrived he headed straight for the sand table and barely looked up when I said goodbye.

Happy feet, dancing in Happyland

Happy feet, dancing in Happyland

At home, time passed quickly. The Girl kicked off her “zhuzh” with a little cry of glee and ran from toy to toy, unable to decide which one to play with first now that no one was about to snatch them off her. In fact, she did an adorable little dance in the centre of the room, which I freely interpreted as her Happy Dance, to celebrate a brother-free morning. After a little play and a snack, I put her down for a (very) early nap and did a good hour of work. Before I knew it, it was time to collect the Boy again.

He was touchingly delighted to see us. He ran into my arms, then hugged and hugged his sister and gave her kisses. He had had a wonderful time but was pleased that we were back.

Tomorrow, we do the whole thing again. And the day after and the day after that.

The whole thing feels strange, like I have forgotten something – left my wallet at home, or my shoes in the car. The house is eerily quiet. The Numberjacks lie on the sofa, lifeless, just toys now. The TV is off.

So I sit at my laptop, doing work, sipping a hot cup of tea, and grieving. It’s only the morning, only a few hours that pass in a flash. And yet, I feel like I have lost my shadow.


Back to work

Return to the Classroom

Return to the Classroom

I went back to work once before.

The Boy was about ten months old and I returned to a new job – before I went on maternity leave I’d had exactly five weeks in this new role at my old workplace. When I returned nearly a year later, I had to re-learn everything. I was very blessed to be able to go to work without needing to send my boy to nursery. Daddy looked after him on one day and a dear friend on the other. But even though it wasn’t costing us money, and he was with family and close friends, I was wracked with guilt. I felt guilty about all sorts of things: that my husband was sacrificing his only day off, that my friend was having to look after a kamikaze baby while trying to home school her own four kids, that I couldn’t do more days at work, that I wasn’t doing fewer days at work. I felt guilty if I left work early and I felt guilty if I picked the Boy up late. I drove drove drove like the wind to get back home or to my friend’s to pick him up at the end of the day.

Mostly, I felt like I was shirking my responsibility. He was my son. I was his Mummy. I should be looking after him.

After a few months, we decided the situation was not ideal, and as I was getting lots of freelance work in at the time, I stopped teaching and became purely self-employed. I worked while the Boy napped/slept and when he was awake I could spend the time with him.

It is now two years on. A lull in the freelance work and the end of maternity pay caused a financial drought and over the summer we decided something had to be done. I applied for a teaching post and got the job: part time, close to home, mostly in the evening which is easy to cover childcare-wise. I do one morning when a kind friend has the kids until after lunch.

Somehow this second return to work is different. I don’t feel guilty. The kids are loving having a bit of special time with Daddy without me around and they love being at my friend’s house. She has a four year old girl who the Boy is slightly in love with, and a 1 year old daughter who is 9 days older than the Girl. The two babies just adore each other and are so cute together that my friend reports never getting any housework done because she just sits and watches them be adorable.

The Fun Bag. It is red and entirely frivolous.

The Fun Bag. It is red and entirely frivolous.

And I am enjoying having a place where people meet me for the first time without two small children hanging off me. I am just Judith to them, or “Teacher”. Slowly, as I prepare lessons and look through the familiar websites and course books, I am remembering what I loved about this job, why I did it in the first place. I feel I am genuinely making a difference to people’s lives and to my community.

Best of all, I get to take my fun bag with me! There are no nappies in it. Just my wallet, my phone, my ID card and some real actual make up. 

So I don’t feel guilty. I feel great. Even the Boy’s new favourite phrase doesn’t make me feel bad: “Oh Mama,” he says, throwing his arms around me, “Zo gemist enenene werk!” [I missed you so much enenene work] I see it as a sign of a healthy attachment. He loves having me around, he misses me when I am gone and is pleased when I return – but he is clearly not distraught or worried that he has been abandoned.

Really, apart from an initial settling in period at my friend’s house back when he was ten months old, he has always been quite content and secure and not half as mummy-ish as I imagine him to be. As for my daughter, she didn’t even need settling. She merrily starts waving me goodbye as soon as I put my coat on, even if she is coming with me and we’re just popping to the shops. And so I have come to realise that two years ago, it was me who had the separation anxiety. I didn’t want to give up being a full time mother just yet.

This time, though, the time is right to broaden my horizon again. This time, I really am ready to go back to work.


20 week scan

My son.


Was that really you?

That tiny hand, waving
grey fuzzy fingers
saying hello
in utero

Was that already you?

Were you thinking
five fingers on each hand.
Were you tasting
Mummy canna have-a apple?
Were you seeing
Oh! Mummy all red.
Were you bouncing
saying weeeeeeee

but soundlessly

inside of me.

Unthinkable and yet
as you curl up on my lap
lean in to me
clutching close
so close
feel my touch
hear my voice
smell my scent
I wonder:
do you remember
that home of heart beats
yours and mine
or both in harmony
and do you sometimes wish
you could go back and
that we could be


Are your desperate tears
a yearning for a time
when I could never leave,
never be apart
from you?

I go and wave

You wave five grubby fingers
peach and apple-sticky
waving still but frowning
as already you yearn

for my return.


(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Prose for Thought