Friday, October 27, 2006

You’re too late…..

Moving back to England was like a reverse culture shock, even though it is my country and Jacques loved it before. Everything seemed more expensive than five years ago and I felt lost, bewildered and out-of touch with my peer group . Our budget was barely enough to rent a one-bedroomed studio in central London. I looked around the dreary suburbs around London where I’d lived after graduation, but couldn’t imagine living there with young kids. In 1995 (before the children were born) we had lived briefly in Gerrards Cross, a green enclave at the edge of Greater London. I remembered that schools were good around there and it was near to two airports, so focused on the nearby small towns, which had train connections to central London. I felt like a foreigner in my own country and estate agents found it odd we didn’t want to buy a house, as most English families do.

I looked for ‘good’ schools with places available, but the Education Office said they could not say if they had a place until I was living in their catchment area. Fair enough, but I needed to know if it was worth moving into the area. When I telephoned the school offices directly with the opening lines ‘We are a new family who has just moved into the area…’ I was rudely cut off with the information that I should have applied nine months ago and all classes were full now. It was too late now, and all they could do was squeeze Marc into some (probably awful) school that might not even be in my area…

In panic-mode I signed a lease on a basic three-bedroomed Seventies flat or apartment in Chorleywood. It was a green and pleasant village-town near to a station and shops, and had three ‘good’ schools. I telephoned the schools; one was over-booked already, the other was a church school (no chance as you must attend the attached church for two years and have a letter of recommendation from the church) and the third said “Let me see…’ After a few days the secretary rang back and said ‘You are so lucky, a family is emigrating to Australia and you can have their place.’ I visited the Headmaster immediately to explain our delayed application and we were in! Marc was officially admitted to the Nursery class of Chorleywood Primary School, starting just after the Easter holidays. The school had busy colourful classrooms and lots of happy children running around the grassy playground at playtime.

Next I concentrated on Nina. As a two-year-old she was too young for the Nursery class, which started just before the fourth birthday. The best option was a full-day Pre-school or private childcare. These options were no good either. The pre-schools would not accept her until she was 2 ½ (and they were only half-day anyway). The full-time childcare center and the local childminders were full, presumably pre-booked at birth. I wished that I was in France, where she would have had a full-time school place at age two-and-a half.

We moved our things to the new apartment with little enthusiasm. The flat was uninspiring and we felt out of place. I left the children with my parents for a few weeks while I started work. I soon realized the commute was nearly 2 hours a day and I would not be home before 6.30pm, even on a good day. An au-pair from France would have been ideal, but we had no spare room. Jacques’ mother came to help out with childcare temporarily. But after a month we had no choice and had to hire a nanny. Several potential nannies visited and said no straightaway. They were used to their own car, huge playrooms/gardens and lots of perks. So we were obliged to hire a first-time Nanny from Australia who didn’t know any better.

Kylie was to drop off/pick-up Marc at school and mind Nina all day. She came with her son, who was the same age as Nina. She cost the same salary as me. She refused to do any housework and would only prepare simple food for the kids. We tried it out for a few months, but it was not a success. So we stopped the Nanny and struggled through the summer with help of my sister-in-law, parents and Jacques parents looking after the kids.

Even though I liked working I missed the school drop-offs and pick-ups (when all the mothers got together to chat). I missed the Assemblies and Sports days. I hated the stress of being home on time and trying to compensate afterwards with kids before they went to bed. In September when Marc was due to start Reception – the first year of Primary school, I reduced my hours to three days a week and had a Caribbean woman, Lydia, look after the kids the other days. But by October I gave up working. It was not worth it. I enrolled for an evening PhD course in Linguistics at Birkbeck College and signed Nina up for the local pre-school four mornings a week.

I calculated that I would have 12 hours for working at home in the mornings and two afternoons when Lydia picked up the kids for my study classes at Birkbeck. In the evenings I could work for up to three hours when the kids were in bed too. The housework, coffee-mornings and watching television would have to be postponed but I could get my PhD papers done and write the book I had always wanted to, if I really tried…..

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