Clocking off

I’ve written before about my ‘vocation’ as a stay at home mum and probably bored you silly, droning on about the additional useful stuff I get involved with as a volunteer, but recently something big has dawned on me.  I need more than this.

It started a little before Christmas, when I applied for and accepted a job as midday supervisor (but you can call me a dinner lady) at the local Infant school. I’m not entirely sure what possessed me, but I’ve been involved with that school since my eldest started there in 2011 and to date I continue to hang around, now that my youngest is in her last year as an Infant. On the basis that I’m always there for one reason or another anyway, I figured that I may as well get paid for showing up.

And therein lies the main difference between this new exploit, my roles as a mum and parent, and all of the other guises and hats that I wear within the community and my own social circle: This is a job; actual employment; tangible work for which I am rewarded with a real wage, an income, actual money paid to me.

Admittedly, a job which only lasts a duration of an hour and 20 minutes every day and which involves such repeated tasks as: walking a class of six- and seven-year-olds unscathed to the dinner hall each day, ensuring that they eat enough of what’s on their plate, shushing them occasionally when they get too excitable, and then escorting them to the playground where they can run wild and free – within certain pre-agreed rules and parameters – isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Heaven knows, it doesn’t pay me a sum that I’m likely to be able to retire on any time soon, but it has its value, to me, to the children and to the overall running of the school. Educational institutions in my experience are multi-cogged, well-oiled machines in which every one of the components – from late-evening cleaners to Executive Principals – are integral to their smooth operation.

There is certainly satisfaction in the job. I may not necessarily be using my degree every day when I set about my midday supervising tasks, but I do have my uses. I am a holder of hands, a sorter-out of squabbles, a cutter-up of food, and I’m proud to say that I have the honour of being the bell lady! Each day, if a child wishes to take a turn clanging the huge, old fashioned metal bell that signals the end of play, they need to go through me. I alone wield this power. Although in truth, the teaching assistant that handed this duty over to me was relieved that she no longer needed to remember who rang it last, who had behaved well enough and which child had approached her first. It still feels like a promotion in my world.

In addition to a pay cheque, midday supervising comes with a lanyard, a contract, interesting training and an appraisal system. All of which make me feel like a grown-up. It also gives me something that I have been missing but didn’t know it till now. I had forgotten what it feels like to clock off. After my short shift, I get to down tools, grab my bag and head back through the automatic doors, happy in the knowledge that my work (at least my paid work) is done for the day. There is definitely a lightness in step at the end of the working day; that ‘Friday feeling’ of relief. Now that I’m putting the super into midday supervisor, I get that every day, and after only one hour’s graft.

After eleven and a bit years, this feels new. I have worked all that time at home as a parent and homemaker – if you will – but you can’t ever clock off from kids. Even in those rare moments of holiday or respite, or when you’ve employed the services of a babysitter, your responsibility to those growing little people is unending. And that’s exactly as it should be of course, but it can be exhausting nevertheless. Not so with my job. There’s barely time to be tired of it, before that heady ‘I’m heading home’ feeling comes round again.

Committee and voluntary roles are all well and good but, like parenting, they are responsibility- and time-heavy. Along with the fuzzy feeling you get from ‘joining in’, there always seems to be the nagging sensation that there’s more you could be doing, or an email you could be responding to. The remit of these roles can be amorphous and vague and, while you may have raised your hand and offered to take on a particular task, no one feels they can compel you to complete it – because they are keenly aware that you, like them, aren’t paid to do so. Thus a cycle of procrastination continues and nothing feels finished.

All in all, my new job is what I need now. There are sacrifices: I miss out on full days at home or day trips, now that my job eats up the middle of the day, but what I lose in free time, I hope to gain in productivity before and after my shift and do more of what I enjoy, more efficiently. Plus there’s the perks: I get to spy on two of my children at play, I enjoy wearing wellies, work five minutes from my front door and can inhale lungfulls of fresh air daily. And then I clock off.  dlock

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Me, myself and I

[something I wrote for a writing group I’m attending]

 

When I sat down to tackle this assignment, I couldn’t remember whether the title was writing about my life or writing about myself. This led me to question the difference. Is it a question of mere semantics or is there a distinction between my life and myself?

I would hazard a guess that writing about myself may prove the more revealing. My Life is the view from the outside, the window frame through which others can peer in. My day-to-day, the things I do, the places I go – that part reads like a fairly open book. As far as I can tell, the stuff of my everyday is transparent; the part of me that perhaps reflects the person I have chosen to be.

I am a stay-at-home Mum who rarely actually stays at home. My neighbours will attest to my Groundhog-day morning routine. Each day they can set their watches by my often mono-syllabic squawks heard through the party wall that separates our two houses. Between the hours of 7 and 8am I’ll bark: “out of bed”, “clothes on”, “teeth”. Then in the evenings I’ll reverse these commands: “teeth”, clothes off”, “go to bed”. To all appearances, my life is less defined by who I am, than by what I do on behalf of the three smaller human beings for whom I am responsible (and to a lesser extent, by the larger one, to whom I’m married). Throw in the labels taxi driver, cook, cleaner and counsellor and you begin to get the picture.

The hours when I’m not with the children are spent wearing various different figurative hats. You may find me helping in one of the local schools, wearing a Guiding leaders’ uniform, in lycra at my Tuesday boot camp or in my anorak in Aldi.  You may see me enjoying a coffee with friends or even idly scrolling through Facebook. The cogs of my world are greased with coffee by day and gin by night (all in moderation of course). A lifestyle forged by fortune, opportunity, design, but above all, that First World luxury: choice.

I am, as we all are, shaped by my ancestry and influences; genetics and education; all the books I’ve read and all the songs I’ve ever heard (although only the 80s ones stuck). My self is defined by who I am, not what I do. There’s nothing more irritating that the query, “and what do you do?” as a conversation opener. As if the idea that someone’s line of ‘work’ is the single most revealing thing about them. In some cases, it might be, but in many others the fullness of that person’s identity cannot be conveyed in the job title on their badge.

I didn’t choose my personality. It chose me. If my self was one of those fashionable word-art images framed on a wall, the computer generated mass of buzz-words arranged in an abstract shape may include: introvert, argumentative, bright, worrier, funny, mother, carer, lazy, thinker, pragmatist, child, contradictory. That’s me in a nutshell, or perhaps it’s more like a particularly disappointing Kinder Egg; there’s the fun and colour and anticipation on the outside that sometimes the inner surprise finds it hard to live up to.

While the outer life is lived in plain sight, I’m not sure my inner self is fit for public consumption, but then, whose is? My own peculiar mix of positive and negative quirks are the anodes and cathodes of my inner circuits; I seem to be on a constant quest to know myself better and to improve the self I already know in order to harness their full power.

There is always the hope that by getting all this down on paper/a screen, a clearer portrait of myself may gradually emerge. And as my life moves on over the years, my self also evolves.

After all, I’m not the me I used to be, nor have I yet met the protagonist of my future memoirs.

Pictures of me

 

I’m not sure whether I can remember going to the park in Ferry Hill at all.  I do know that I have been there. I have sat coyly at the base of a column of children extending up the park’s enormous slide, a shy face fronting a tower of smiles. I know this because I have seen a photograph of it.

Looking back at the slide in that image now, it’s perhaps not as imposing as I once thought, nor as steep. Still, it must have been fairly long to accommodate all twenty-something of my Aberdeen playgroup chums along its length. The photo was taken on the day I attended my last session of blubloup – as I affectionately called it – before leaving the Granite City and upping sticks to the Midlands. There I am, perched at the bottom of the slide, nervously looking down at my tan-coloured Clarks buckle-ups and gripping the cool metal of the slide for dear life. Meg and Wilma, my marvellous playgroup ladies are waving down at the camera from the top, while alongside the slide, on its raised cement mount, steps jut out from the hillside like concrete teeth.

Meg and Wilma are the stuff of legends, the names that kick-started my education, that tried to coax me out of my shyness with too-strong orange squash and a ready supply of Digestive biscuits. Again I’m not sure whether I truly remember them or even being at playgroup itself, but those ladies are penned in our family’s narrative as much as the sting of Aberdeen’s bitter North Sea blast or the dead grey of its housing stock. I can recall a hit of sadness when a few years ago, my mum told me about Wilma’s untimely death to cancer. This lady who remains deep in my memory banks and a seminal part of my childhood, gone but living on in a cheerful snapshot.

Whether or not this picture is painted from my own pallet of memories, or from the ‘proof’ of a photograph in front of me, the sense of nostalgia is the same: nearly forty years on, I can taste the lip-curling sharpness of that sugary squash and feel the hot burn on my cheeks when, on that same last say at blubloup, I was asked to stand up and hand round the biscuits.

But are these genuine recollections or would the pages of my memory be embarrassingly blank without some photographic prompt? Fortunately much of what I can’t remember, my Mother can. She tells me that I loved playgroup, I loved Meg and Wilma, and I loved going to that park, although a glance at my pained ‘stop looking at me’ expression in every photograph might make it appear otherwise. The fondness of Mum’s appraisal of these two staff members perhaps colours my memories of them, after all, I was three at the time. These were playgroup ladies of a traditional mould and Mum trusted them. I think she felt the same about Meg and Wilma as I did about the wondrous staff at Stepping Stones, my own children’s playgroup. Leaving your most prized possession in someone else’s care is no small thing, since those are the people who will feature in future stories and memory fragments, the perceptions and the pictures that shape childhoods.

The park in Ferry Hill is a long streak, the sort of green space planners bung in to break the stranglehold of so much sameness. I have another photograph of that Aberdeen park, one in which my school-uniformed brother and I stand by the sash window in our Albury Road house overlooking the green space opposite. Look higher out of the same window and you can glimpse a prim row of granite houses, their grey seeping into the sky. My parents must have been grateful to live opposite that flash of green: a playground and a pause, right there on their doorstep.

The change from black and white to colour photography predates me, but the earliest snapshots in which I appear are almost always printed out three by five inches and feature the round corners that were fashionable at the time.  My childhood memories have round corners too. Aberdeen’s harsh light is softened with curves and any hard edges are smoothed out for posterity. 

Perhaps after all there is nothing new about the Instagram generation’s need to apply filters to everything they view. Some of the best memories are a little blurred at the edges anyway.

 

 

Blocked

I haven’t written anything here for ages. There may be digital silence, but my head swims daily with thoughts of frivolous things, angry things and more. I comment on the news inside my own mind as if I’m a speaker on a talk show.  I quip with myself like I’m a guest on a panel show. I spew criticisms and plaudits alike at the world around me as if my opinions matter, but it’s inaudible if you’re not actually in my head. Sometimes that’s for the best…

Have I not written because I’m lazy or  because I’m busy. Do I lack imagination? Am I too tired, too distracted? Is it that I haven’t the confidence that the words I write will adequately represent what I want to say, or is it because I think no one will listen anyway?

Whatever the answer, it’s very echoey inside my particular chamber right now. If only for my own sake, it’s probably time to follow the light back to the outside and write… Watch this space.

 

 

Mind the gap

My eldest reminded me the other day, in the midst of some tricky maths homework, that a great teacher had once told her to ‘use what you know to find out what you don’t know’.  (Yes, I’m talking about you Richard Brown…) This is useful advice, and not just when it comes to homework.

So much of raising children involves information gathering. We all know that kids’ brains are little sponges, soaking up new messages daily, while our leaky older ones drip, drip the wisdom away. We pump our little ones full of facts and rules at school, and we have high expectations of them at home too: things they should know how to do; independent decisions we think them capable of taking. We encourage investigation and learning all the time. That is, except for the times when we’d like them to shut down their whirring thought processors for the night, (‘for the last time, will you please settle down and go to sleep’.)

And we are selective in what we expose them to. We try to prevent our children from hearing distressing world news (until such time as we deem them ready to understand it) and we’d rather they were kept in the dark about the details of ‘growing up’ for a few more years yet. We only want them to hear our version of events: a steady drip feed of information on a need-to-know basis.

And then sometimes you assume your kids know more than they actually do… We have been on tours of two prospective secondary schools with our eldest recently, gleaning plenty of information and asking lots of pertinent questions (such as, ‘what non-core GCSE options do you offer?’), in an effort to build a picture of the schools. So far so good. Our information gathering was going well, until P asked a few days later, ‘what is a GCSE?’. We had over-looked one vital fact. In this decision, one of the key stakeholders is 10 years old. We assumed her starting point of knowledge is roughly the same as ours. But it is not. She has not, after all, ever been to secondary school before, nor sat a GCSE, nor made any significant life decisions. With no framework of expectations, how is one supposed to know what to expect?

Without a crystal ball, there is no telling what kind of experience P will have in either school, but I think I will use what I know to find out what I don’t. I know that P is a strong, empathetic, big-thinking girl with the courage of her convictions, so for now, I’m happy to use that knowledge to plug the gaps in what I can never possibly know – what the future holds.

 

 

 

The proper order of things

Child number three is my ‘…and’ child. You know, the one you write last on Christmas and birthday cards, ‘ with love from T, L, P, P and M.’

Somewhere, sometime, it was decreed that we should talk about our families and our children in descending age order. Maybe it’s something to do with history, or a Jane Austen novel at least. Your greetings cards come from the one who’ll inherit the estate, followed by the one destined for the clergy, then the wayward, spirited one after that.

It’s not quite like that in our house, and I’m sure, as and when the time comes, each of our children will have equal shares in the vinyl collection and nobody so far has expressed a calling for the Church. The youngest may indeed live up to the ‘spirited’ tag but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. But every time I sign our list of names I wonder, is there some significance to being last on the list, or the ‘…and’ child?

I have always been ‘and Lucy’. In my twenties I swapped ‘oldest sibling, older sibling… and Lucy’ for ‘husband… and Lucy’. In fact, I’ve never not had an ‘…and’ in front of my name. I’m not sure how this has shaped me in my life at all – others may have more of an insight into this than me, but I can’t help feeling there is some significance to it. At the very least it puts a pause in front of announcing your name, and maybe lends a little extra gravitas… the family version of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Elton John.’

I’m thinking I might start to share that little pause and extra attention around, so if you receive a birthday card from me from,  M, T, P, L and P, then you’ll know I’m trying to share the wealth a little, and give someone else a turn at being an ‘…and’ person for a change.


 

Lucy who?

A post in which I write the word Lucy a few too many times.

Since packing all the children off to school in September I have become many different people. Here are just a few versions of me:


Friendly Lucy # This Lucy jumps at any opportunity for child-free caffeine. Household tasks are put firmly on the backburner while she single handedly keeps the local cafes afloat.  Flushed with new-found freedom she meets old friends and convinces newbies from the playground that they want to drink coffee with her too.

Me-Time Lucy # Mostly just more of the above, but this Lucy sometimes travels further afield to seek solo caffeine experiences. NB may also involve bookshops or National Trust properties.

Shopping Lucy # This Lucy equates shopping with freedom. Not that she ever buys more than a few fish fingers, hamster provisions or charity shop bargains. Still, time spent in a shop (any shop) is time away from offspring and responsibility. Plus Shopping Lucy doesn’t ask herself to buy an overpriced comic every time she sets foot in Tesco.

Getting-the-job -done-Lucy # This Lucy is responsible for a brief and exhausting period in which a whirlwind of household chores are actually completed. Getting-the-job-done Lucy quickly gives up on this idea after she realises that the job never actually gets done. Clothes get dirty again, dishes pile up next to the sink again, wee appears around the toilet bowl again ad infinitem. (see also the opposite: Procrastination Lucy)

Volunteering Lucy # This Lucy feels guilty about being all the above Lucys and signs up for more volunteering roles than she has hours in the day to fulfil.

Pie Lucy #  This Lucy has aspirations to be the new Mary Berry but probably comes off a bit more Fanny Craddock. Pie Lucy makes a decent mincemeat, chicken or apple pie, and isn’t in the least bit bothered when her children ask for something to eat that doesn’t involve pastry.

Active Lucy # Probably in reaction to Pie Lucy’s butter intake, Active Lucy likes a burst of Zumba or swimming from time to time. Only a short burst mind you, as during exercise Active Lucy’s face goes burgundy and needs a good five hours before it feels less hot than the sun again. Active Lucy is often bullied into inaction by Lucys 1-3 in the above list. NB Active Lucy is weak.

Leaving-the-house-for-the-sake-of-it-Lucy (or LTHFTSOIL for short) #, does exactly what it says on the tin. A close friend of Procrastination Lucy, this one will do anything to avoid being behind her own four walls.

Not-wanting-to-leave-the-house-Lucy # is the opposite of LTHFTSOIL and for some reason, some days, can’t wait to drop off the kids, get home and close the door and not open it again till school pick up. Not-wanting-to-leave-the-house-Lucy is probably not as much fun as some of the other Lucys.

So that’s just a few of the versions of me. There are others I could mention, Gin Lucy, Church Lucy,  Double Standards Lucy, Pop Master Lucy, Needlessly-stressing-about-being-late-Lucy also deserve a mention, but I fear if I go on, I may give you an unwelcome glimpse inside my brain.