‘This is a well-oiled machine, now, isn’t it?’ says Liz, my daughter’s childminder as she drops my tired but happy daughter home, and I’m surprised to realize that she’s right.
I wasn’t entirely sure what it was going to be like when I decided to go back to university to study for an MA. I was pretty sure I would love it, and wasn’t thinking too much about the intelectual demands it would make on me or whether I’d feel self-conscious about being older than the other students. My main worries were along the lines of ‘Will I persuade my children to get up in time to go to their childminder at 7.40am?’, ‘Will my train break down?’ and ‘Will my children be stressed, anxious and clingy as a result of being passed from one form of childcare to another all day?’.
All my concerns were about the logistics of getting to my weekly seminar and how my children would react to me disappearing into East London for a day each week.
I needn’t have worried – basically, my children love being away from me, and I couldn’t be more pleased. ‘Could you be late picking me up from after-school club?’ my son asks most weeks. ‘I don’t mind.’
My daughter is equally delighted to go home from pre-school with her friend’s mum instead of me.
This is very much a tribute to the brilliance of all the people who look after them so well, from 7.40am to 5pm. I know they’re in good hands, and that’s what makes it all work so well.
Everything is going well, so far.
This week was a little different however. Yesterday there was an inset day at my son’s school, and after a little thought about which friend might like to host him for the day, I realised that the easiest and nicest thing might be to take him with me.
He’s eight, and has therefore reached a reasonably civilised age. What’s more, he’s clearly very intrigued by my return to studying, and what the university is like, so I felt it would be nice for him to see it for himself.
‘Absolutely, bring him along, that’s fine,’ agreed my tutor when asked, and so Leo and I set forth on the 8.16am train to Canon Street, armed with many quiet forms of entertainment (books, drawing pads, papers, the flight notes for a Lancaster Bomber, a muted ipad).
While I was a little nervous of my fellow students reaction, Leo was greeted only with friendly positivity.
‘He looks so sweet and content back there,’ said one of my fellow students, as he settled himself into the back row.
‘I’m so relieved I’m not going to be the first person who has to bring their baby with them – I was sure it was going to be me!’ said another, who had given birth to her son during her second year at university. I’m happy to break this ice for her, actually, and it’s nice to remember that although I am the oldest student in the room, I’m not the only one who is navigating studies alongside parenthood.
‘What should I do now?’ Leo asks.
‘Anything you like, as long as it’s completely quiet.’ I say.
My son is actually as good as gold, and I am pretty much able to focus on the seminar – although it’s surprising how noisy ‘good as gold’ can be. When a respectful hush falls for Dr Helen McCarthy’s lecture on 1930s politics, the only sound I can hear is my son sucking chocolate buttons, and I’m also hyper-aware of how loudly the tapping of the ipad screen seems to resonate accross the room!
It’s good to report that we survived the experience pretty painlessly; what’s more Leo was impressed by the size of the university campus and the sheer scale and number of books in the library.
As my life gets busier, inset days can be a problem to work out, but I’ve always welcomed them as a chance to spend time with just Leo – a thing that doesn’t often happen. I’m glad I got to take Leo along with me on this occasion, and we also had time to have lunch at Wagamamas on the Southbank, and explore the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe a bit too before we made our way home.