Long before we had a baby, my husband and I discussed whether or not I should stay at home with it, and we came to the mutual conclusion that we would like me to be there, maybe until it was at school. At the time I was suffering from a complete overload of broodiness and, together with a hamster-on-a-wheel disillusionment courtesy of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, it seemed like more than a good idea. In accordance with The Plan, when I became pregnant, husband found himself a better paid job, and we up sticks-ed from our lovely home in the North and moved as far South as we could get to be closer to our own parents. We thought that I would, when Baby was old enough, do a bit of supply here and there, just to keep my hand in, like, and all would be tickety-boo.
Ah. The best laid plans.
Like most people, I suspect, the arrival of Baby sent everything spinning in a completely opposite direction to the one we had planned. Diagnosis of Down’s notwithstanding, looking after Baby was a whole lot more absorbing, and way more tiring than I expected – let alone how it was when babies Two and Three arrived. I didn’t think that I would enjoy staying home with Baby quite so much; thinking about it, I am pretty sure that embarking on a Grand Plan to Lay the Best Foundations Possible for Sam had something to do with my contentment. I like to feel that I am doing something worthwhile and I like a challenge.
I watched him so closely, this little boy of mine. Everything I did with him had some sort of added value attached to it. Any toy that I bought or borrowed had a purpose – putting in, taking out, doing and undoing, throwing and catching…everything. And after playtime came therapeutic playgroups, speech therapy sessions, baby music classes, coffee mornings. There wasn’t time to be bored. Then there was the start of school, the arrival of baby number three and there wasn’t time for anything.
The time came, though, when the attraction of being at home, rushing between school, nursery, home and nursery began to pall. I was intensely interested in watching and helping my baby develop, but when he, and then the others, entered the school system there was less and less of interest for me to do. No more singing and signing. No more toddler groups where funny things happen. No more long afternoons catching up with friends (can’t be late for the school pick-up). Instead, life at home became a bit of a drag. Chopped up bits of time, punctuated by dashes up and down the road to fetch various children from their activities, in between bursts of frantic cleaning (don’t laugh, my house takes twice as long to tidy up as it does to clean).
So, one night, over the ubiquitous glass of wine, we, Husband and I, had one of those conversations that went a bit like:
Me: I think, when Baby goes to school, I’d like to get a job.
Him: Thank God for that. I thought I was going to have to pay the mortgage on my own forever.
Me: Oh. You mean, you’d like me to get a job now?
So there it was. I went back to work for a whole lot of mixed up reasons. Not so much because I have a burning and overwhelming desire to Teach, but that I needed to do something more creative and satisfying than cleaning my house all day every day (OK, I’ll admit to a touch of exaggeration here); I needed to know that, although I was sacrificing a lot for my children, I wasn’t sacrificing everything. My husband badly needed my support, and I’m not really the kind of person who takes well to being told what to do – especially after ten years at the nappy-face – and I certainly don’t have what it takes in office skills. It was back to school for me.
It took me a while to find that elusive permanent part-time teaching job. I feel as if, after the long break at home with little ones, I’ve had to earn my stripes all over again, and, although I love the job of classroom teacher, I’m not sure whether it is a place to which I will ever return full time. Before I had my children, all I ever wanted to do was find a teaching job, settle down, and establish myself in a school. It was difficult enough finding one in the first place (don’t let anyone tell you there is a shortage in teaching). That’s as far as it went.
And now I am a proper grown up. I’ve biggish children of my own, a mortgage, a car. I’ve been married for nearly twenty years. My firstborn is almost a teenager. I’m back in school, but I’ve been out of it, discovered that world outside of it, and I’ve learned a whole awful lot. I’ve found that inside me, inside the girl who just wanted to get a job, a job so that she could ‘make a difference to children’ lurks Ambition. Ambition to make a difference beyond the classroom. I have inside me the desire to share my experience and help to shape the latest generation of baby teachers. To make life better not just for children, but their parents too. Especially those who, like me, have children with extra-special needs.
I’d love to go to work every day. I’d love to get my teaching teeth stuck in to the wider world. And yet. I have three children, all of whom need me, and one of whom has the uncanny ability to suck away my capacity to care about anything outside my own four walls on a fairly regular basis. And, when I am at that point when it might reasonably be expected that my life as a mother might be easing off a bit, I find that my responsibilities are not lessening; rather than leaving the baby behind, he is coming along with me, painfully slow in his growing up.
And I have found that the thing I wanted to find most, loving, and being loved in return, is not the thing that liberates me after all. Instead of setting me free, I find that it binds me. I find the running after everyone tedious in the extreme, but because I love them, those children and that husband of mine, with every fibre of my being, I am not prepared to chase after Ambition and all its glory right this minute. Because that boy, who WILL grow up, who will take his place in the adult world, but who will take his own sweet time in doing so, needs me to be there, right here, right now.