There’s no such things as….Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins

Being the youngest in the family has its benefits.  Older sisters and brothers have to feel their way around in the dark as they pick their way through life whereas the youngest has the advantage of following the trail of breadcrumbs left behind.  For many of the trials and tribulations that life throws your way, you’ve already watched an older sibling make a stab at it, watched them achieve and fail. You’ve seen where the cracks are on the pavement and you know when to jump.  It’s almost like you get a practice run at things.  It can often make life a lot easier for you than the first or second born who only had episodes of MacGyver as a frame of reference.

I’ve taken advantage of this position many times in my life and decisions in recent times have been no different.  So when it came to choosing child care for our daughter, we didn’t have to look far for guidance.

My older sister has two little darlings of her own and a year ago she went back to work full time after taking a number of years off to care for them both.  The world of child care is new to our family.  My mother stayed at home to raise us and for us playschool had only ever been a fun couple of hours a week while she did the shopping or visited a friend.  When that is all you know, how do you come to terms with handing your tiny children over into the care of others in the first place let alone deciding who those strangers might be or what environment that it might take place?

Initially, after much deliberation, painstaking research and a few trial runs, my sister and her husband chose to hire a child-minder.  The process was a difficult one involving many interviews, references and Garda vetting.  She eventually settled on a no-nonsense woman from the country  who didn’t appear to take her position lightly.

For a year, she reliably arrived every morning to mind the children in their own home.  On freezing snowy mornings, when the rest of the country poked their noses nervously outside their doors, my sister breathed a sigh of relief. Her two little angels were still snuggled up in their beds, their very own Mary Poppins downstairs squeezing them orange juice for their breakfast and preparing fun activities for the day.  The children grew to love her and she became part of the family, someone my sister thought she simply could not live without.

Unlike Mary Poppins however, she, without warning, handed in her notice at the end of Spring.  A more attractive position had been offered to her in Dublin.  It was an offer, she said, that she couldn’t refuse.

Overnight their little family was thrown into turmoil, their world’s turned upside down and the upheaval for the children nothing short of distressing.  They had no choice but to begin the whole process again and this time it was against the clock with both her and her husband back full time at work.  Interviewing candidates, ruling people in and out, checking references.- nobody seemed good enough now.  Their trust had been broken.  After a long and fruitless search, they finally came to the conclusion that placing themselves at the mercy of a child-minder again was far too great a risk.  The threat of it happening again far outweighed the benefits and so with heavy hearts they abandoned their search for Nanny McPhee and chose the best playschool they could find in the area.

And so with the experiences once again of my sister firmly under our belt, we’ve made the decision to send our little girl to the same playschool as her little cousins.   We have not interviewed one potential minder.  We stand with ammunition at the ready for the torrent of sickness that is about to hit our household and pray that immunity finds us quickly.  Calpol and Vitamin C line the medicine cabinet.  Children really are the greatest carriers of germs and bugs.  Having witnessed first-hand the temperatures, the messy nappies and vomiting during the first few weeks of my niece and nephew’s attendance at crèche we are aware of what is ahead of us over the coming weeks.

Even without the borrowed hindsight, hiring a complete stranger to come into our home and mind our child filled us with fear.  How could we be sure, with a small baby who couldn’t speak for themselves, that their intentions were always good?   Who would they invite into our home when we weren’t around?  We didn’t and couldn’t know.  You could never be sure and that wasn’t good enough for us.  The same applies to crèches around the country as the recent revelations in the RTE documentary have shown.  However, at least there are regulations and standards in place that crèches should adhere to.  In the absence of the government ensuring that these crèches adhere to them, it’s down to us the parents.  The reports and the inspections should be available for parents to see and we should seek to view them on a regular basis!

I am sure there are many families out there who have nothing but positive experiences of child minders in the home, who could swear it was Mary Poppins who flew in their window one day disguised as Mary Doyle from two streets down.  Maybe if I’d looked hard enough I would have found our Mary Poppins too.  But I just couldn’t take the chance that I’d find big bad wolf instead.


A temporary reprieve

Her little pink bag with all her little bits

Her little pink bag with all her little bits

Today was our little girl’s third settling in day at playschool.  She was there for two hours, ten to twelve, same as Monday and Wednesday.  I packed her little pink bag with all her little bits and pieces and we headed off just like before.  Monday and Wednesday had been difficult enough and walking away had been as hard as I thought it would be.  Today was different though.  For some reason I found it even more arduous than before.  I walked to the car in tears, my husband at the other end of the phone at pains to know how to comfort me.  It wasn’t that she was upset, in fact, quite the opposite.  She is fascinated by other little children and she couldn’t get down onto the floor quick enough to engage with them.  Perhaps as the time draws closer, it’s just becoming more real.

So many of my friends with children warned me not to allow the thoughts of returning to work sour the last few weeks of my maternity leave, that they now regretted wallowing in the inevitable rather than enjoying what  was left of their time.  And so I have taken their advice as best I can, trying to relish every last bit of free time I have with her.  It’s tough though, now that the time is almost upon us not to let it creep in and bother you.

I did the shopping while they had her, thought I’d use the time productively.  Shopping can be difficult with an infant and I usually do it at the weekends when my husband is home, grabbing the bit of ‘me time’ to run around without the buggy.  But here I was, stumbling around the supermarket, feeling like I’d lost an arm.  I stared enviously at other parents there who had the privilege of breaking their children’s squabbles up and wrestling with them till they sat still in their trolley seats.  I willed noon to come around quickly so that I could rescue her and we could both run off into the sunset and let someone else deal with the cold harsh realities of paying mortgages and settling gas bills!

At five to twelve I arrived at the playschool giddy with excitement at picking her up and swearing I’d never tut at a pooey nappy again.  Was it terrible of me to secretly hope she had pined and cried for me while I was gone?  The truth was thankfully nothing of the sort.  The little scamp was absolutely fine, playing with her new found friends on the floor and giggling and leaping towards me when she spotted me, arms outstretched.  And so we headed off, temporary reprieve granted at least, for one more week.



The time has come…


21st August 2013

Last November 2012, I gave birth to a baby girl, 7lbs 13 oz’s at 16.36 in the afternoon.  It was the single most incredible thing to happen to me in my life- period.  It has changed my life irrevocably for the better.  I cannot imagine life without her and it pains me to try.  Over the last ten months we have become inseparable.  Her daddy, my lovely husband, I know very often has felt the cold winds of Siberia as he looks on from the outside despite my very best efforts to include him.  She is very much a Mammy’s girl for the moment.  This could very well change as, over the years as she realises that her Daddy is far cooler than I and much softer to boot, coming in handy when she needs extra pocket money or permission to go to a disco.  See?  Did you catch that?  My very uncool vocabulary has given me away already.  She’ll soon see through me.

So after six months statutory and 4 month’s voluntary unpaid leave, I return to work in 10 days.  My stomach lurches as I type this.  It isn’t work I fear returning to (although this should quickly change after five or six Mondays in winter) it’s the thoughts of leaving my little girl in the hands of stranger’s.  I’ve turned these thoughts back and forth and upside down in my head over the last ten months, trying to figure it out.  I’ve cried to my own mother, lamented the fact that some other woman will comfort her while she is sick or sad when I’m at work.  My heart wrenches.  That’s my job.  My mother did it for me and now I should do it for her.  But there is no getting away from the fact that there’s a mortgage that needs paying and there is food that needs buying and unfortunately, much as he would love it to, my husband’s salary alone will not cover our expenses.  We have come to the conclusion that today, it is only the very fortunate and indeed the very unfortunate who are privileged enough to stay at home bring up their own children.

There is also a flip side to this coin, a selfish flipside I might add.  I hold an excellent leaving cert and I’ve been to university and achieved my degree.  I’m an intelligent girl with a lot to offer the work force.  I have very much been an advocate of women’s rights all my life and have always been ambitious, if not a little lost in where I was going.  I am well respected in my job and have always hoped to climb the ladder.  If I were to give up work I know I would be doing myself an injustice.  It is, after all 2013.  There is also a loud voice in my head telling me that as the same sex parent, it is essential that I am a strong role model for my daughter.  I want her to achieve whatever is in her grasp in life.  It is my job to show her that this is possible.

With all this in mind, the decision I have come to with my husband is to return to work for the moment at reduced hours, a three day week.  It seems that this is the best compromise.  We can still afford to pay the bills and buy nice things and I can maintain some semblance of a career, our little girl has the benefit of interacting with other little children in a safe environment and she will still spend the bulk of the week with her Mammy.

So this week, our little one has started a settling in week at playschool.  We have chosen to send her to a crèche rather than a minder, but that’s another day’s entry.  Every working mother I have spoken to lately has assured me that it gets easier, that kids adapt much faster than we do and that the whole process is probably harder on me than on her.  They assure me that after a while, getting back to work will do me good.  I’ll become myself again.  I’m not sure I ever said I wanted to…

These decisions as a mother are some of the most difficult I can see myself making in my life and for this reason I have decided to document them in this blog. I hope that it will help other working mothers (inside and outside the home) and that we can all share our experiences and help each other as we find our way in the maze that is motherhood (and fatherhood for all those Daddies following too!)  Please feel free to comment.  I’d love to hear from you….