I have often thought there is a special place in hell for people who schedule meetings to start at or after 5pm. Before I got sick, I imagined my death would be recoded at 18:17:24, on Hornsey Lane when I was trying to undertake the number 41 while revising a novel way of apologising for, for the third time in the week, being 17 minutes and 24 seconds late picking my daughter up from the afterschool club. Having said that, should these two scenarios come real, my after life would be very much like my current one minus the worry of trying to make it to the after school club for 6pm. In that sense the eternal flames could be an improvement in the quality of life.
I would miss my daughter though, but if the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is to be believed in, she is already a zombie. A study published today warns of the effects of children as young as four spending as much as ten hours a day at school, from breakfast to the evening snack. (Some of them spend on average around 10 hours and 17 minutes – I know, because it was me who bought her the watch.)
“These children walk around like ghosts, do not talk to anyone, fall asleep frequently, do not progress as quickly as their peers. Their parents are also ‘too busy’ to support them in an adequate way at home,” a teacher said in the Guardian.
A ‘Zombie’ child playing ‘Zombicide’.
Unless ghosts have “excellent speaking skills” but are not such great listeners, as in my daughter’s reception year school report, I think this teacher might have been generalising a bit. But that’s ok. We are used to generalisations, us single parents. Even when we are generalised by omission, which this report is guilty of through depicting the time poor hard pressed as the nuclear family, where both parents have to – wait for it – work. In Finland both parents work, but primary school kids finish school by lunch time. And the school starts at age seven, for that matter. So contrary to a popular misconception, Finns don’t acquire their national zombie like characteristics until much later in life, and even the school murderers obtain their Finnish equivalent of GSCEs before being presented with a rifle at their 16th birthday.
But I’m getting all too EU labour policy-ish/Scandinavian noir here, when the point I was trying to make is that if the ten hour school days are true for any particular demographic segment, surely the single parent families would have their free hand up, even if in the Coalition’s dictionary, the word oxymoron is explained as a ‘working single parent’. This has even been unintentionally observed by my department’s leadership, in a cc all email to the practice: “it has been noted that some people leave at 5.30pm… to have an easier life… this is not acceptable.” So, guilt ridden after spending the 10 minutes of quality time with the daughter every evening (not shouting counts as quality, yes?), I try to bridge this gap between my easy life and acceptable humanity on my laptop until I collapse after midnight.
Clearly, until the day I can clone myself (which may be soon, based on the number of samples of tissue I’ve had taken from parts of my body during this long cancer diagnosis process), this all suggests that my default position is failure, whether as a parent or an employee, and from this position I want nothing more than kick Sheryl Sandberg’s ass when she’s leaning in.
But on the other hand, whether it is a question of your prognosis or your child’s progress, statistics and averages are mostly irrelevant at an individual level. My daughter does brilliantly at school – particularly on the verbal expression side, so the headteacher was surprised to learn she is actually bilingual (you see, the English view the knowledge of more than one language, that is English, as a handicap and hence this is not encouraged until one goes on a gap year to teach English to poor indigenous children in South America, because it is still a bigger handicap not to speak English even if one might argue they would benefit more of learning Spanish).
And this parental pride in itself qualifies me to give some advice, which apparently blogs can get famous (read sponsorship) for. Firstly, we do the homework during the school commute. It works. Secondly, lots of parents cram weekends full of activities. I used to take her to three different lessons on Saturdays and Sundays, because getting home at 7pm obviously means she can’t train as a classical pianist on a Tuesday afternoon. But I got fed up and tired, let alone bankrupt. Now we only do activities that have some enjoyment and benefit for both of us. So, for this not so much ‘tiger’ as your average hedonistic ‘family cat whose partner no-one has ever heard of’ mum this has involved swimming (I swim during her lessons); athletics (I train for my 10k PB while she’s in her session); being together at a djembe drumming workshop; dancing salsa in Hyde Park; or playing a (good) board game. I realised that I can only genuinely do this quality time thing they go on about, if I’m actually relaxed myself.
But it’s possible that more drastic changes to the work demands and marathon school days are needed to make the time to develop some other skills. Not maths or literacy, but learning to ride a bike was our personal mountain. How fitting that we have now successfully climbed that one – during my sick leave.