So it turns out that the things you do as a parent aren’t always things that you like to share with childcare professionals. My family likes to tell the story of when a health visitor came to our house to visit my baby sister and saw me, aged 3, blonde and angelic looking, dancing in our flat. She asked what my favourite song was. She was quite surprised, shall we say, to hear me say ‘Hit me with your rhythm stick.’ I was reminded of this tale yesterday afternoon while booking E into nursery.
They took me through a checklist of likes and dislikes, habits, routines, consent for various things and so on. “Does she like any songs or rhymes?” they asked. I hesitated. She does like songs and dancing, or watching me dancing. This morning we sang The Ramones, Baba O’Reilly and Brimful of Asha. Should I mention this? Probably not. In the baby room they were singing Wind the Bobbin Up over and over again – I’ve a feeling that’s what they’re used to.
I was already feeling like “one of THOSE parents” as I’d forgotten to take E’s birth certificate and red book for them to see. It just didn’t occur to me that they might need these things. The nursery head was just like a teacher from school and frowned at me. I nearly said, “well you didn’t tell me I needed to bring them!” before deciding it made me sound about seven years old. (Things got worse when I realised I didn’t have a chequebook with me – well who carries one of those these days? – and couldn’t pay them in advance like they wanted. Never mind, carry on.)
So they asked all these questions. Does she need a comforter when she sleeps? What foods does she like? What can she do? (Do you mind if we consult a health visitor if we have any concerns about her development? I must have raised an eyebrow at this as she hurriedly said “after we’ve spoken to you first, of course.” Yes.)
I don’t think I gave a strong impression of her with these questions. She doesn’t need a comforter, she eats everything, she likes banging things and knocking things over. She doesn’t dislike much, she’s very placid and happy. So there’s not much to pass on. Except they look at you, expecting all kinds of detail about your baby, and I couldn’t give them any. “She likes dangling upside down by her legs and eating the phone.” No. Best not to say. We went downstairs where I’d left her with the baby minder, to get to know each other. “I can’t hear any crying,” said the nursery manager. “That’s a good sign.” We opened the door.
Of course she was crying, red in the face with tears pouring down her cheeks. The baby minder was lovely, said it’s quite normal and not to worry. We have two more sessions booked in next week to get to know them more. By the time we finished today E was fine, though on my knee the whole time, but looking at the other children, smiling at the staff and playing with the toys.
The other thing that struck home with the questions is how isolated we are. We’re not unusual in this but it’s never struck me before. “Do you have an emergency contact?” they asked. “Not you or S but someone else in case you’re not available.” No. If neither of us is able to get there, quite frankly we’ll be dead. What are the odds? They had to have someone. My sister, mum and S’s parents are at least three hours drive away. We don’t have any neighbours to rely on. In the end I gave them S’s aunt who lives not too far away but really shouldn’t be asked to do this for us as she is retired and has her own family to worry about. She’s a lovely lady and I’m sure will be fine but I have to call her now and ask if this is ok. Otherwise, my sister it is.
It got worse when they then asked if E had any special people that she liked or saw on a regular basis. It comes to something when one of the people she recognises most is the playworker from SureStart who we see once or twice a week. Rather than friends or family, I mean. I was feeling terrible by this time and mentioned a friend we see quite often as well as my sister again. I think E recognises them both.
It’s not like we’re cut off – I see people, we go out, we interact. But of course when so many of your friends have families of their own and jobs to juggle, how much time feasibly do people have to spend together like this?
So all in all it was an odd afternoon. We have two more sessions next week where I have to leave her there. Normally I relish the time I get to have to myself.
The thing is, I expected after last weekend to be upset and emotional about this but now all I feel is a strange sense of unease. It’s not the nursery, who do seem very good. I warmed to the baby lady, she’s very good at putting mums at ease and seems unflappable. It just feels wrong. E’s so little still. One baby, about E’s age, has been in from three months. I can’t imagine how her mother felt. Everyone has told me this is worse for the mums and that very soon E will be fine. I know she will, she’s a lovely clever baby. If I could have a big emotional weep it may be better but for now it’s just this sense of unease. It’s unsettling.
I’m sure I will be much happier in about a month’s time when everything’s settled and we know where we are. At the moment, with S’s recent job worries and changes, my going back to work to face forthcoming job uncertainty and nursery too, everything feels like a massive state of flux. And clearly there’s only the three of us to get through it together.