Today was the last day of my children’s Easter holidays. I was at work. This was fine; they spent it with their grandad, and he’s much better childcare than I am. He doesn’t have to pretend to be interested in long winded, endless stories about Jedis and princesses; he genuinely is interested. He gives them sweets and ice cream. He takes them to soft play and to the park, both places i frequented so much when they were little that I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than spend much time there. Altogether they get a much better deal with him, and so I felt no guilt about going to work today. I rarely feel guilt about going to work – after all, they are usually at school during most of my working hours, and I’m lucky enough to have a husband who gets home early enough to do the afternoon childcare. My children are lucky; they have a parent for practically all the time they are not in school.
So no, it’s not the day that I feel guilt about. It’s the evening. I got home at 6pm, more than a little frazzled by my day. (It’s summer half term for teachers: coursework and controlled assessments are due along with immense amounts of paperwork; exams are fast approaching with all the necessary intervention and that final push for students- I spend my days reassuring myself that this too shall pass) At 6pm my second job began, and this is where the guilt reared its ugly head. Because, you see, I’m not nearly as good at my second job, not after ten and a half hours in my first job. My second job requires all the patience, kindness, and tolerance that my first job does, but by 6pm I’m all out of all three.
Tonight I feel huge guilt. I owe a lot of apologies. I should apologise first to child 2, who, after months of driving me to complete distraction with her apparent total incomprehension of phonics sounds, (her teachers assured me it was there somewhere; she never showed it at home. She was too busy guessing words, reading through occasional word recognition and generally making me want to hurl her and the book through the window), has suddenly had a lightbulb moment. She is now racing her way through Biff and bloody Chip, volunteering to read at every turn. Given this is all I’ve wanted for months, and there has been much ranting about how mad this reading process drives me, I should be alight with joy and happily listening to her read for hours. Actually, I listened to three stories and then made her go to bed, already thinking about the marking I had to do. On the way up the stairs, she banged her head under my chin, accidentally, and I shouted at her. I didn’t mean to shout; she just hurt me and I was tired and I still had hours of work to so. Her little face crumpled and she said sadly, ‘I didn’t mean to hurt you, Mummy.’ Of course she didn’t mean to hurt me, and I didn’t mean to shout, but she’s four and doesn’t understand stress and tiredness and having hours more work to do.
After we had cuddled and read more stories, she went to sleep happy and I went to read with child 1. We cuddled up on his bedroom floor and he wanted to read his Star Wars book to me. It was 7.30pm. He read and read and I tried to enjoy it, head drumming with all those ‘they’re only little once, you must enjoy every second’ entreaties that I hear all the time, but a) my interest in Star Wars is practically zero and b) it was 7.30, 7.45, 8….. He begged to keep reading. This time last year he would read nothing. Beguiled by this, I kept listening, but in my head I was somewhere else, worrying how my marking would get done and the school uniform would get ironed, and the PE kit would get unearthed from wherever the hell it had hidden itself, and if my work dresses were clean. Eventually I persuaded him that he could read it to his animals and I left my lovely boy sweetly and painstakingly relating Yoda’s adventures to a group of rabbits and chipmunks to go downstairs to mark. I peered in at my sweet girl, sound asleep with her cuddly cats, and felt real disappointment with myself that I’d let the patience that I had found so easily with year 11 during the day desert me just when I should have had the most.
This isn’t one of those blogs where teachers discuss workload and how we can’t manage it and how it’s all just too much. It’s not about the workload; this is what I signed up for and this is what I’m paid for. My students deserve for me to mark their work. They deserve for me to plan their lessons so that they can make progress. They deserve my patience and kindness and tolerance, and they give me so much back every day. It’s about me being able to recognise that I have to find all that from somewhere at the end of the day too. I have to be able to listen to my children, and to hear them read, and to show them that they are the most important thing in the world to me. Because they deserve a mother who can do that.
Tomorrow is a new day. I probably will shout. I probably will lose it inside my head. I probably will be tired and have two hours’ of work still to do when I come home. But as I look in at my beautiful sleeping children, I hope that tomorrow will also be the day that I put them first for all the time they need.