I’ll be honest, when I got the brief to write a “humorous/slightly irreverent piece on what it’s like to make a living in the early years sector” my initial reaction was “simple – I’ve been writing the Just Pretendy news every provider wishes they were waking up to for a couple of years now”. And then I read on and saw “generally upbeat in tone”. Well, that wiped the smirk off my mush good and proper. Because there just ain’t a lot to be feeling upbeat about at the moment – hasn’t been for quite some time, in fact.
But once upon a time I was all about the joys of working in the early years sector; sharing the trials and tribulations of the everyday Childminder; dispelling myths and misconceptions – especially about paperwork, and Ofsted, oh, and did I mention paperwork? Then there was challenging others who made everything seem so much more complicated than it ever needed to be; and picking up down-trodden providers who’d had enough of the endless knocks and negativity. I was a weeble who wobbled but wouldn’t fall down and I wanted everybody else to feel invincible too.
I used to see the funny side of time-poor parents juggling family life with work; of being suspected of being a child abductor; and even nearly getting my head kicked in in the school yard. I really had no shame at all in admitting that I’m not the perfect Childminder. And since coming clean about how I suffer from anxiety and stress much the same as many other practitioners right now I’m getting my head around coming out about not being the perfect Mother either but how that’s actually making me better at my work than you’d expect. My son is collateral damage I’m afraid but I’m sure he’ll forgive me…eventually.
In particular, I’ve been thinking about how I always thought I was doing a marvellous job telling kids they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, you know, like how anybody can go to university if they work hard enough, how boys can wear nail varnish and Disney dresses and girls can do motor-cross and wear dinosaur pyjamas if that’s what they like. That boys can be nurses and girls can be pilots if that’s what they want. Wow, how good was I?
And all the while, my son’s favourite role play game was being a bin man. Thousands and thousands of pounds we spent on private music lessons; kitting out his own music room complete with recording equipment, keyboards, drum kits, guitars, amplifiers, microphones the lot. I remember attending a parent evening when he was deciding which GCSE subjects to choose. I was sure he’d go down a musical route, in the very least, the technical production side of it especially since he’d had a lot of experience with our family mobile disco business: “Mam, what do you think I’ll need to choose if I want to become a bin man?” Me: “how are you going to afford to keep a future family in overseas holidays, a nice house and a flashy car on a bin man wage son?” Well, he’s always been a good kid and so he went along the path his ‘college of technology’ steered him down – and I colluded obviously because every parent only wants the best for their child – and sure enough he got the GCSEs he needed to go to engineering college. Which he hated.
He then entertained the idea of becoming a music teacher instead and completed a level 3 apprenticeship with our local authority adult education department with a view to going on to achieve his teaching qualifications. But he hated that too. Because, I guess, deep down he knows he still wants to be a bin man. But did I listen to him? No I didn’t. Like thousands of others his age, he’s been primed to choose STEM subjects to go into a STEM career. We’re so hell-bent on having these fabulous-sounding jobs that companies have ‘modernised’ job titles just so they sound more technical. You’ve heard of bricklayers, factory workers and service station assistants right? Yeah, well they’re Mortar Logistics Engineers, Mass Production Engineers and Petroleum Transfer Engineers now but hey, here’s a thought: if everybody’s going to be engineers and architects and product designers and scientists then whom exactly is going to cut hair and groom dogs, clean houses and restaurants, fix roofs and pot holes and empty the flippin’ wheelie bins? Since when did wanting what’s best for our children refer to economic success alone? How many times have we consoled our child after they’ve taken a test: “so long as you tried your best sweetie then I’m happy with that” or “I don’t mind what you do so long as you’re happy”? They’re lies.
So, being a crummy mummy has got to have an upside and this is it: Every child I’m ever given the privilege of working with really does genuinely get their dreams valued. Every kid who wants to sit on one of our motorbikes really can be a blood biker or a courier, for doesn’t every single one of us rely on these undervalued but essential people every single day? My son’s only 19. He’s still got plenty of time to get a Masters so he can become an Environmental Waste Management Engineer.