I have something to celebrate. I’ve been at work the past two weeks. Yes, you read right – work! But don’t be fooled…I am not celebrating because I spent two weeks being useful and being paid; but because it’s over, after possibly the longest fortnight I’ve ever lived through.
My son’s nursery school accidentally lost a teacher just before the start of the school year, replaced her, and then carelessly lost another one (through no fault of their own, I might add). I had rather stupidly offered to help out in the case of an emergency when the first one was mislaid, and two days before the start of term I assumed as I hadn’t heard from them that I was off the hook. Just as I was tucking into my “I’m a hero for offering but guess you found someone” email, I had a message float into my inbox with details of my starting date, pay package and a class list. What could possibly be worse than being stuck at home with only a 2-year old for company? I’ll tell you: being stuck in a room with 16 of the little dears for five mornings a week after a 3-month hiatus for them and a great big two and a half year break for me.
I don’t know how I ever did this job full time. Maybe once I had ‘the calling’ and maybe I will again, when I’ve had a bit more sleep. But now I find it impossible to imagine getting through a full school year without losing the plot completely. It’s no wonder teachers are by and large a bit of a strange breed. It could drive you mad if you let it. Of course experience tells me that if you don’t actually have a child of the same age you are teaching, it’s slightly more bearable, but for the ‘today’ me it was at best logistically difficult and at worst emotionally and physically exhausting.
Of course I picked the worst two weeks of the year. Orientation in a nursery school is one of the most harrowing experiences you can go through, for pretty much everybody concerned. Tots howling for their mummies (and in a few cases, for the nanny – that’s Dubai, folks). Mummies – ah, the mummies – staring in horror at children screaming at the door, on the floor – well, anywhere they can find really – then lingering too long and asking really helpful questions such as ‘when will they all stop crying?’ (answer: when you stop trying to figure out if I’m really as qualified as I say I am and let me get back to my job).
More Mummies upset in the hallways as they tear themselves away from their traumatised offspring, converting their guilt to resentment at the obvious incompetence of the staff who have only just met them and are expected to be an instantly accepted primary carer replacement. (Note: a qualification in Early years teaching does not mean your child is going to like me in the first 30 seconds of meeting me, nor will they thank you for leaving them with me having spent nearly three months in your company, just because you suggested they stay and play with me for a while.)
And yet more Mummies, questioning why the teachers haven’t been genetically modified to have a few extra sets of arms so that all the crying children can be comforted at the same time as taking one of them to the bathroom and breaking up a fight over a book in the reading corner. A token Daddy in a suit, who stands in the doorway feeling increasingly uncomfortable in this sea of emotional wretchedness and resolves to make sure his wife does the drop off from now on and bugger her job/yoga/coffee morning. And finally -last and most definitely least – the lowly teachers, the suckers in this whole human separation experiment, who are wondering (not for the first time) what on earth it was that inspired them to teach in the first place. Because it sure as hell wasn’t orientation week.
My heart was plucked from its natural resting place on Day 1 when I left my own howling two year old behind and ran straight to a classful of the same. I spent all morning wondering how my little one was doing in comparison to the ones I was looking after and was so worried I nearly burst into tears on several occasions. It was awful, because I couldn’t call in to find out, I couldn’t pick him up a bit early to ease him in – I couldn’t do anything except just keep dropping him off early and picking him up late, feel horribly guilty and upset and then crush my own feelings into a small place where no-one could find them and deal with everyone else’s. It didn’t improve for a good three or four days, until finally, on Day 5, my wonderful little man looked up at me with a wobbly bottom lip and said “Mummy’s brave boy. Kiss. Bye bye mummy.” He gave me his shoes and wandered off to the playdough table and that was that. With a huge sigh of relief that he had finally accepted his fate, I turned my attention to myself, and the fact that for a week I had been peed on, thrown up over, had my sweater repeatedly used as a handkerchief, used the phrase ‘sit down and cross your legs’ about 497 times, lost my voice from talking and singing non-stop over unreasonable decibels of crying, had had no tea break, lunch break, toilet break or child break for 12 hours, five days straight, missed having quality time with my son so much it hurt – and came to the conclusion that I was absolutely, unbelievably, irreversibly broken.
Then I had two days off and did it all again.
I read a really ignorant comment from a mother on a local website here which claimed nursery was merely “playtime for toddlers” and how difficult could it be? Well lady, YOU try it. It’s really, really tough. I once again take my hat off to the teachers that do it day in, day out. It might come with short hours and long holidays but the actual work part of the day is harder than anything else I’ve ever known. 60 hours a week of sitting in front of a PC and having meetings and lunches and making a few difficult phone calls to clients/suppliers/whoever is a walk in the park in comparison. And to all of the teachers out there, I wish you luck and love and motivation to keep going, because you are amazing people who are under-appreciated by so many, yet entrusted with our most sacred of possessions.
And as for me? Well my sacred possession is no doubt currently occupied doing finger painting or water play or whatever, and I am back to civilian life. I have already started the long process of getting on with the ‘to do’ list that has been lingering since we returned to Dubai nearly a month ago, stalling slightly while I write this, it’s true, but I’m getting to it. I feel like September got lost in the mail, and I’m heartily glad for a change to be doing absolutely nothing with my life while I try and sort it out a bit. Going to work has made me appreciate not going, for once. And I plan to make the most of it while it lasts.