So I go to pick up Maisy from school. Tales about this child often have me praying for the ground to open up and swallow me and this is no exception. It was a last minute dash and I’d only had time to grab a light mac. No brolly, no hat, no scarf, no gloves but I have remembered my PACEY Childminder lanyard. I’ll only be out for 5 minutes. I’ll survive. Only Maisy’s class is last out. And the light drizzle has turned to sleet and I’m stamping my feet and rubbing my hands trying my best to keep warm. I see Maisy and wave, Maisy sees me and reciprocates. I see her say something to her Teacher. I know she is telling her that she sees somebody is here for her only the Teacher does not let her go. I wait. I know there’s a problem when they come over to me. Maisy immediately reaches out for my hand and I take it.
Teacher: who are you please?
I’m Andrea Turner and I’m Maisy’s Childminder.
Teacher: she’s saying she doesn’t know who you are…
Hmm, well, I’ve been her Childminder for almost 3 years and this is far from the first time I’ve collected her although it is the first time I’ve met you.
Teacher: yes, her usual Teacher is off today. I’m not sure I can let her go with you. Can you wait here while I go to the office and make some calls?
I’m afraid I can’t because I have another child to pick up from another school and I don’t want to leave him waiting, especially in this horrible weather. I can clear this up right now by calling her Mother for you if you’d like to speak with her?
Still Maisy says nothing, giving not one inkling that she knows me from Adam beside holding my hand. To the rubber-necking parents in the yard, I’m a potential child abductor. I’m even wearing a mac (of all the days).
Teacher: no, I’d rather follow our procedure.
Righty-ho. You take Maisy to the office with you, make your calls and I will meet you back at the school office in 20 minutes.
Teacher: I really think you ought to come too.
And now I’m thinking the call she wants to make isn’t to Maisy’s Mother at all – it’s to the police. Honestly, could this get any worse?
Another Teacher steps up. “You pick up her sister Molly from my nursery class don’t you?”
No, that’s my sister. We both work together. [We’re often mistaken for twins].
And immediately I wish I’d just said yes. The Teachers confer. Maisy is getting upset now. She’s pulling me down by my hand and whispering “Andi, can we go now?” The Teacher overhears and notices my PACEY Childminder lanyard. (Thank you PACEY, thank you PACEY, thank you PACEY).
Teachers burst into laughter: “Eeeee, kids say and do the funniest things don’t they? Honestly, they’d get you shot wouldn’t they?” Tee-hee-hee-hee-hee.
Yeah, wouldn’t they just? And off we go.
Why the heck I’d stand unsuitably dressed in sub-zero temperatures if I didn’t have to I can’t begin to imagine but believe me, there’s a million things I’d rather do. I ask Maisy why she didn’t tell the Teachers who I was and she said “I just didn’t know what to call you. I’ve never been asked that question before” and I get it. To her, I’m just “Andi” and she’s been coming to my home and being part of my family since she was very small. It’s like when an adult asks a child what his Dad is called and he says “Dad”. And while I’m overcoming the embarrassment of it all Maisy’s already swiftly moved on: “we have 3 Polish children in our class!”
This kinda gives me the impression that this is news: “Oooh so you’ll have been learning some Polish words today then to make them feel welcome?”
Maisy: erm no, they all speak English and they’ve been in my class for ages silly.
But how clever that they speak 2 languages and they’re only 5 years old. Wow! Wouldn’t they be super impressed if you could speak to them in Polish? You know, start with ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and then work up to ‘can I play with you?’ or ‘would you like to sit next to me?’
Silence. More silence. Finally: “I know! Let’s start by learning how to say that I had a poorly cough at the weekend and I had to sleep in my Mam’s bed but I’m okay now and my Dad’s got a new girlfriend but we haven’t met her yet but I’ve seen her photos on Facebook and she looks nice and Nicky’s got a new pug puppy from the dog pound called Simba and she wees all over the place but Poppy likes her and …..”
Clearly this kid has a very high opinion of me. (Only wish she’d made that obvious 5 minutes ago). She doesn’t realise that my Polish is purely restricted to the głowa, ramiona, kolana, pięty action rhyme and I’m probably not even very good at that. By the time I revisited Paris 6 years ago I’d been speaking French for over 30 years. I’d booked us all into our hotel in French, ordered in bistros and restaurants in French and bought pastries in patisseries in French. Only I came down with a very sore throat and happened upon a pharmacie. In French, I explained my symptoms. The blatantly unimpressed Pharmacist asks “Are you English?” and I reply “Oui” – still in French mode. “In that case, I’d go with Anadin. You like my English?” Trust me to find the only Parisian who wanted to practice his English. But I didn’t want to speak English in Paris and I certainly wanted something more exotic-sounding than flipping Anadin. Was my ‘J’ai mal à la gorge’ too school textbook? Should I have gone with the more sophisticated ‘gorge irritée’? Who was I kidding? I couldn’t betray my north-east Englishness whatever phrase I used. Yeah, my Polish is definitely worse than my terrible French so sorry, Maisy dear, but we will be starting with cześć just as soon as you’ve learned that I am your Childminder and my name is Andrea Turner. Another day, another dodged bullet.