Yesterday was the last day of nursery for my youngest.
I have been dropping off and collecting my children from the same nursery for last 8 ½ years and yesterday at 3pm was the last time I will make that journey.
I am emotional.
Having kids is a bit like being airdropped into The Hunger Games. When the time comes you realise you’re not prepared, nothing you encounter was covered in the trailer, you’re tired/delirious, everyone else seems to know what’s going on, you can’t change your mind, nothing makes sense and your vagina no longer resembles anything like it used to (as a friend recently put it: smashed lasagne).
Nursery was always on the cards. I had worked hard to build a career, I loved my job and I wanted to be able to have the best of all worlds – career, children, home, holidays etc. The whole 9 yards.
Fast forward to month 4 of my 6-month maternity and we’re now realising that we should get our skates and look for a nursery. There were lots to choose from locally and we assumed that they would all be of a similar standard. They are not. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all OK, they all do the basics of supervising your children and keeping them fed and watered, but some are much better than others. I left one particular nursery and immediately burst into tears. The waves of guilt you experience as a working mother are endless and they begin early (ie before you even get back to the working bit). Then we found the right nursery and it all seemed to fall into place. We knew people whose children had been to that nursery and they all seemed to be normal, confident, happy, content children. Excellent. Along with a down payment of a few major organs and a direct debit instruction enough to make your eyes water child #1 was going to nursery at 6 months old and I would return to work. All would be back to normal. Right?
Firstly, let’s get physical. I had an emergency C-section which meant that I now had an overhang similar to a muffin top but made of bread dough. It was like trying to tuck the dough into massive pants and watching as the dough spread itself. Weird.
Breasts – ah yes. My babylons, no longer the fun bags they once were, now performed their primary function. I was a walking, talking, lactating baby feeder. This meant that before dropping child off I would breastfeed, then by lunchtime (or thereabouts) I would need to ‘express’, otherwise by the time the marketing meeting kicked off at 2 pm, I would have the equivalent of two ready-to-explode milk-filled watermelons.
Nothing says ‘back to normal’ like sitting in a toilet cubicle with a breast pump attached trying to identify the people that come and go by only the sounds of their footsteps. Then, because you can hardly walk through your department with a fresh pint in one hand and the pump in the other, you pour the milk down the sink, wash the pump, readjust the MASSIVE nursing bra and reapply your lipstick, then leave the bathroom only to return 10 seconds later when you realise you’ve not had a wee. ‘How was your lunch break?’ is not a question you honestly answer for quite a few months.
That’s just top-line physical stuff. For the first few months back I literally had bottles of Mountain Dew lined up on my desk and in my bag. Standard handbag items had been replaced with anti-bac hand lotion, wet wipes, Calpol, teething powders and nappy bags.
Time and purpose take on new perspectives. Before I had kids I didn’t realise how much I took my job for granted. I worked hard, sure, but it’s fair to say that I probably wasted time too. Now, juggling work and home meant I didn’t want to waste time. I felt like when I came back to work I put myself into a higher gear. If I was going to be at work and have my baby at childcare then you bet your arse I’m going to make a difference.
You can’t leave a job you love to have a baby that you love and expect everything to be the same again. It’s not. You’re not. The company you work for may not be the same and for a long time your colleagues are not really sure how to treat you. (Note to those colleagues: we know you’ve all had to do extra work, that you’ve stepped up, that it’s not necessarily been convenient, we’re sorry we didn’t leave everything of note in the handover and we’re sorry we left that knobhead for you to deal with. We also really want to hear about your drunken nights out, we don’t want to talk about our kids all the time and the reason we don’t talk when we have a cup of tea is that we relish the opportunity to drink a cup of it while it’s still hot.)
While we’re getting to grips with going back to work, we’re also struggling with the fact that strangers are looking after our babies. That they can’t be doing it right, that only you know what your baby needs, only you can… you get the idea. But thinking like this leads to madness. They are experts at what they do. Every single person we encountered over the 8 ½ years was filled with kindness and care.
It feels impossible that my youngest has now finished this stage of their life. For some reason, he seems less robust than my oldest, but he isn’t. He’s just different.
The nursery has helped shape their early lives. It introduced them to new experiences, people and children. The staff have shown patience, kindness and expertise, always there to help with advice on sleeping (kids, not me), toilet training (ditto) and all the answers to the random questions that pop into your head at 4 in the morning.
Above all else, I’ve learned that there’s no right way to parent. Nursery, home, co-parenting, grandparents: whatever the childcare looks like as long as there is real ‘childcare’ then it’s all good. The sooner we stop judging parents for how they do it the better.
I have two happy and healthy kids who are so completely different in their personalities and styles that it’s impossible not to be grateful to everyone who has helped raise them in these early years.
Thank you to every single member of staff, over all of the years my kids spent at nursery x