I was enjoying the best part of an entire bottle of wine to myself last week with some mummy friends when conversation turned, as it often does, to school admissions. I swiftly defaulted to slopey-shoulder mode, for this topic is chalked up to my mental “probably going to give you a stress hernia” list.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” I said, helping myself to a pringle stack and 150g of premium grade hummus. “We don’t even need to apply until next April.”
“Er, no, that’s when we find out about places. We can apply from next week. How are you off for wine, top-up?”
Yes, top me up good, because shit is about to get real. When I’ve previously looked into the dizzying concept of schools, from behind a cushion with a soothing whale song app primed and ready for deployment, I’ve got myself in a pisser of a muddle. We’re in the catchment area for one school, one. This is actually ok, as the school is lovely and less than a minute’s walk away. I could almost stand by the kebab shop on the corner of my road (#classycrib) and watch Mouse skip in through the gates.
The problem is, mummy has a little job to bring a few pennies into the pot, and little jobs don’t tend to marry up so well with multiple children and their respective childcare / education arrangements. Let’s assume we get into Catchment School. Here are my options for keeping both headmaster and line manager happy:
Christ Almighty How Do I Adult This – Scenario #1
08:00 Deposit Moo at nursery, 1 mile from house.
08:45 Return home to deposit Mouse at school, 0.2 miles from house.
09:00 Wave her off, drive like the fucking wind to work utilising the M27, which is unfortunately often a quagmire of random traffic incidents.
09:30 Arrive at work, consume breakfast at desk.
12:30 There will be no lunch break, because….
14:30 Abandon desk, commence return journey down the M27 and park at the homestead.
14:55 Trot to school and retrieve Mouse.
15:00 Spend the teensy walk home catching up on Mouse’s day, otherwise termed “active parenting”.
15:05 Station Mouse in front of that evergreen substitute teacher / parent – Nick Jr. Hope that Wallykazam or Dora are on because at least they’re brain food.
15:10 Boot up laptop and dive the fuck back in to my working day, praying that my WiFi is robust this afternoon because everything I need is on the network.
16.45 Abandon laptop, scoop up Mouse from her braindead telly stupor, entice her with an apple like she’s a skittish pony, and shove her in the car.
17:00 Retrieve Moo from nursery with associated handover chat, presentation of bag of dirty clothes, and requests for flat stones / milk bottle tops / jam jars for the next day’s crafts.
17:30 Enjoy the many, many cars on the short stretch of road home. Try to keep both children awake. Spot ladder in tights and remember an email I didn’t send.
19:00 Bed for children.
20:00 Sexual display for husband to keep the engines ticking over (don’t worry, I chucked that in for comedic effect, it’s wholly false).
Christ Almighty How Do I Adult This – Scenario #2
07:30 Deposit Mouse at Breakfast Club, handily AT AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT VENUE to her school. Yes, the school that’s within gobbing distance of mi casa. I’m now going a mile in the other direction, down an arsehole of a congested road.
08:00 Double back on my route. Launch Moo into nursery.
08:10 Cry in the car with worry and sadness that Mouse has to catch a bus, albeit heavily chaperoned, from Breakfast Club to school.
08:30 Arrive at work.
12:30 Lunch break yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!
16:45 Leave work.
17:15 Retrieve Moo from nursery with handover chat and associated delights as detailed in #1, above.
17:40 Retrieve Mouse from After School Club, at aforementioned ENTIRELY DIFFERENT VENUE to her school.
18:00 Arrive home, crying because I’ve not seen my two children all day but equally I’m fucking tired and I want them both to go to bed.
18:01 Debate whether this club combo, priced at £14.50 per day, together with the nursery fees of £50 per day, is actually going to put us on the breadline.
At this point I’ll bung in that there are two other schools up for consideration, but one is heavily oversubscribed and the other links in to the same breakfast and after school provision as our catchment school so my drop off and pick up point would be the same.
Ah, I also forgot to mention that we’re a one-car household, and my husband starts work at 8am sharp in an entirely different area of the city. Nearby available family is limited, and the pool is diminished further because the key persons who can potentially chip in with childcare don’t drive. So my shoulders bear the sole brunt of this Key Stage jigsaw.
I literally do not know how we’re going to pull this one off. I mean, millions of other families have two parents who work, and young children within different settings, but it feels like there are so many plates needing to be spun that I may as well replace my dinner service with partyware.
With option #1, I essentially spend the bulk of my day chasing my tail and, I imagine, being a progressively crap employee because I’m barely bloody there. Meetings will be squished into the 10am-12noon slot and I’ll probably end up using my evenings to make sure I’m staying on top of deadlines, reports, and general admin.
With option #2, I stand half a chance of putting in a decent day’s work and maybe, oooooh I don’t know, tapping my bonce up against a glass ceiling and testing it for weak spots. But the trade off is a monthly childcare bill of about £700, until Moo gets her golden, beautiful funded hours in 2019. Do we just accept that it’s going to be shit until that point? That for at least four days per week, neither of us will have much quality interaction with our children?
Then what happens in the holidays, where my husband and I have a leave allowance of 45 days between us and the school calendar notches up around 65 days?
I’m going back behind my cushion. Whales, start your singing. And refill my wine glass while you’re at it.
-SJW September 2016
This was published by the Huffington Post on 6th September 2016. You can view that version here.