Childcare by Jenga

My son is twenty and my daughter is eleven.

I only found out that my son is in Venice by sneaking a look at his Facebook page and noticing him in a gondola.  Still he appears to be having fun.  Meanwhile The Girl and I are meeting up with her dad to buy her Big School Uniform as she’s graduating from primary school this month.  She’s thrilled to be going to a strict girl’s school where the uniform appears to have been designed by Frumps Inc.  No bare legs, no leggings, Amish skirt length, no earrings, makeup.  Boundaries of iron so the girls have to find other ways to express their individuality.

‘What am I going to do about afterschool?’ I asked my ex.  ‘Nothing’ he said cheerfully.  ‘She’ll be a latchkey kid, like me and you.’

‘Once they go to high school they’re gone,’ someone (probably called Cassandra) said to me years ago.

I do yoga every week in a community building and outside we can hear the happy screeching of small children running about.  I watch them sometimes, a lifetime ago.  Their plump scented skin, rosy faces, hair buttery soft curls.  Lara at four when I picked her up from nursery.  What did you do?  ‘I played, I eated my dinner and I ran away from a bumblebee.’  There was always a funny story.  Joshua, Lara’s friend had been bitten by a red ant, so the children set up a Revenge Squad to find out exactly which ant it was.

What I won’t miss is the firstly the huge expense of finding childcare. The average cost of raising a child in the UK has gone up to £230K per child.  Child Tax Credit is about to be slashed.  It costs about £6000 a year to send a child under two to a nursery, which means that for many families, having one person at home is the cheaper option.  Single parents of course have little choice.  How do parents do it without the constant feeling of being punished?  The phrase ‘career woman’ seems like a particularly anachronistic and stupid joke given that parents have to go out to work just to stay afloat.

The other thing I really won’t miss is the juggling of favours, the Jenga tower of arrangements, always on the verge of collapsing.  A meeting suddenly comes up at 3pm, organised by the manager who has a stay at home wife.  There is no room in the afterschool club today.  Does anyone owe me?  Her dad is great but he’s away on business.  I could ask my boyfriend but only want to use him in dire emergencies (like the time I twisted my ankle in Brighton and couldn’t move and he belted down the M2 to pick her up) I text my daughter’s best friend’s mum.  Can L walk home with Gia and maybe stay for an hour? 

All parents know that ‘maybe stay for an hour’ is code for ‘I have no fucking idea when I will be back but you will own me and I know it.’

You consider adding ‘pleeeeeze????’ and then decide not to as it sounds desperate and ungrammatical.   Even though you are.

What if Gia’s mother doesn’t come back? Then what?  You can’t miss the meeting.  Ok your neighbour upstairs – Lara could knock on her door but then she’ll have to walk home from school by herself.  You check. ‘Lara can you walk home by yourself?’  and Lara says, ‘Er ok’ which means that she doesn’t want to – oh God – Text! Text!  It’s from Barbara upstairs.  Damn!  Can U take kids to school Friday? Have early apt.

Bugger. Still if I take her kids to school on Friday, she’ll owe me.

Ping!  Text again!  And yay!  No problem – L can walk with Gia.  She does have choir but can miss it.

Oh God is that passive aggressive?  She does have choir.  Or is it me just being oversensitive?


So that’s taken care of.

Except the meeting at 3 overuns and you get caught in the traffic and are half an hour late.  You send endless grovelling texts, but Gia’s mum’s smile is slightly cracked when you arrive, although the kids are having a wonderful time and Lara doesn’t want to leave.  So it takes 20 minutes to get her out the door and you make a mental note to build up favour next time Gia needs babysitting.

It’s not the work that’s so exhausting but squeezing life round it.


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