Caroline's blog: Hat trick

They say all good things come in threes, but I have not, as yet, found any professional body which gives recognition to the hat-trick we are about to achieve.  Sadly, we haven’t scored goals in high profile sporting fixtures (although that is certainly a dream for my Superhero). We have, however, moved through the childcare ranks – we started with a nursery, more recently we have employed a nanny, and in the New Year we will be welcoming an au-pair to our family.  Seven years ago, we agonised over the pros and cons of each of the three possible arrangements. Soon, I feel, we’ll deserve a badge (or at least a glass of wine) to celebrate having used all three in negotiating the childcare maze.

Our childcare journey started over 7 years ago at a small family-run Montessori nursery between our house and the tube station. Of all the nurseries I visited, this ticked the two essential boxes of me feeling comfortable there, and it fitting in best with our routine. It felt like a safe, predictable, accountable setting for us to cut our teeth on the intricacies of childcare arrangements. I appreciated the box of tissues at the entrance for those initial painful drop-offs, and loved pick-up, and the detailed feedback each day (my favourite being when they apologised that they’d had to explain to my Disney Princess: “that it is wrong to put another child’s elbow in a toy microwave and try to cook it”). The pricing structure meant that a full-time place cost only marginally more than the 4 days we needed, so we paid a slight premium for the flexibility to know we had childcare available when our professional roles sometimes required it at short notice. The downside was that in close proximity to other little ones, initially our tots seemed to get ill every 3 weeks like clockwork. This was followed with the obligatory 48-hour exclusion during which we adapted our working arrangements and watched our sick tot with new-parent-angst. However, the blessing in disguise is that our tots now seem to have pretty strong immune systems which we reckon must be due, at least in part, to their early days in nursery.

Once our Disney Princess started school, we had to contend with 3.10pm afternoon pick-ups 20 minutes’ drive away. The solution was a part-time nanny. She spent a couple of days a week with our pre-school Superhero, and did the school runs two further mornings and afternoons whilst our Superhero attended the nursery attached to the school. As a family, it was also a time when we felt we needed a bit of extra support, which made her help round the house invaluable. The downside were the eye-wateringly high costs involved, and managing an employment relationship. As a pensions lawyer myself, it has felt a bit strange worrying about our auto-enrolment compliance from a personal perspective rather than as part of the day job. However, it worked out wonderfully, and she felt like part of the family.

Two years on, the wind changed and Mary Poppins left. Nannying was no longer what she wanted to do. Conveniently, however, she had an equally wonderful identical twin sister who was also a nanny who happened to be looking for a new family. We already knew her, and so we had a smooth handover. It may have been a little too seamless – it was only half a term later at parents evening that my Superhero’s form teacher expressed her confusion as to why he was insistent that he had a new nanny while she believed she was still releasing him to the same lady at the end of the day – telling the school should probably have been further up our to-do list!

Life settled down again. Then, our nanny shared the news of her pregnancy. My genuine excitement was spiked with the inevitable confusion about our health & safety obligations and the longer-term implications for us. Having, in effect, a 6-month notice period has worked out really well, as it’s given us a chance to take stock and review how everything is going and what childcare support we need.

As a result, we have decided that we are going to try the au-pair route. As the tots are now comfortably in the school routine, we need a bit more flexible support than previously. As a linguist, I spent a number of happy summers as a student living with families, looking after kids and working on my language skills. We now feel we could offer this to someone else. The tots are older – it’s been a long time since they have reduced anyone to tears – and we hope they’ll be able to respect and learn from someone with a different language and culture. We have a loft room that we can convert from a general dumping and storage room to a comfortable bedroom, so the stage is all set.

So - our lovely Spanish au-pair is arriving in the New Year. We are excited, and hope that it works out well for her and for us. Saying that, on her recent birthday her parents bought her an essential present for her trip to England – an umbrella – so at least she is coming prepared!

Caroline is the proud mum of a 7 year old Disney Princess and a 5 year old Superhero. She is also a senior associate in the pensions team at a magic circle law firm where she tries to balances work and family life by mixing office and home-based working for four days over five days each week.

Category: A Citymother's Diary

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