I realised in the bath this morning that it might, possibly, say something quite revealing about my character that I used the very first post on this blog to give myself a ‘get out of jail free card’, for use in emergencies. Moments later, of course, I realised that whatever it is, however revealing it might be, it’s unlikely to be flattering, so I launched into my fall-back diversionary tactic of making a shopping list in my head instead.
Recently, though, I have been wondering… what counts as an emergency? Some friends recently applied for schools, only to get a letter explaining that they hadn’t been allocated a single one in their borough. The place they were given was so far away that one of them would have had to ditch their job in order to do the marathon school run each day. Which would mean halving their income, skipping mortgage payments and eventual destitution. So, clearly, a full blown emergency. Black and white. Nothing doing but to sign up for a nearby private school for a year, stick it on a credit card and prey fervantly for a local school place to materialise before the bailiffs do.
But it’s not always so clear. Life as a parent is full of micro-emergencies and it’s these that I’m most frequently tempted to break The Rules for. Standing in a station at the end of a long day, with a murderously overtired toddler who is about to turn the one hour and eight minutes from Euston to Reading into a tortuous, endless Groundhog day for you and the entire commuting community… Is that an emergency? It feels that way, when the entire nightmare could be averted by taking just a few steps into the WHSmiths concession where a whole row of Octonaut magazines await.
Then there’s the trip to meet friends that involves so much packing (beaker, nappies, change of clothes and other things the boy deems ‘essential’ like swimming goggles, a spanner and length of rope because YOU NEVER CAN TELL what disaster might befall you in the park)… So much bumph that the addition of a homemade lunch – and the resulting extra weight of jam sarnies, flask, mush for the baby – could (almost) literally be the straw that broke the camel’s back. How much easier just to grab an Ella’s pouch and a packet of Organix rice cakes from the nearest Tesco?
Worst of all are the educational micro-emergencies. These are the most toxic kind by far. Because I can give myself a stern talking to when my micro-emergency is about the mere frippery. But when it comes to education….
Should J be taking swimming lessons like his little friends? Might it literally end in an emergency if I try to teach him just by splashing around with him myself in an amateur fashion? Or, if not an actually dramatic lifeguard moment, might it lead to a micro-emergency – falling behind his peers, losing confidence, hating sport and ending up bunking off PE and lurking behind the drama centre smoking menthols and dousing himself in impulse to mask the smell (can you see I’m projecting here?)
The same goes for: word games; learning-to-tell-the-time games; numbers and counting games; games involving the months and the days of the week; books about the world and geography; pencils that help you develop a proper grip; very occasional theatre experiences and musical concerts; football clubs; drama club; pasta in funny shapes (not explicitly educational in themselves but might possibly be a vehicle for coaxing brain food into him?)…
The list goes on. Each of these, individually, I can find creative ways of doing myself. But somehow, now he’s approaching four and school, it’s all hit at once. These things didn’t matter last year. He was definitely just as happy and just as stimulated without them. But now… does he need a little nudge? In all these areas? I’m not talking pushy parenting, just the smallest bit of help along the way to liven up his learning… it all suddenly looks a bit critical. And ALL of it, at once, I cannot DIY. Not while also working and looking after the baby and managing four people who all (myself very much included) suffer from acute cases of chronic untidyitis, oh and a house that has no dish washer or dryer and is constantly, CONSTANTLY falling apart.
None of these things are essentials. I know. None of them are emergencies. But are they micro ones? Is he missing out by missing them? Tanith Carey sent me a copy of her new book Taming the Tiger Parent, which she promises will make me feel better about dumping J in the garden with a twig instead of enrolling him in Mandarin classes. It’s a really good read, so far, but since I’m currently tackling it in the bath, while simultaneously making mental shopping lists and brainstorming free maths activities, it might take me some time to finish it. So in the meantime… answers on a postcard please!