You need to have decided by the count of three.
One, two, two and a half, two and three quarters…
What is it about big decisions? Buying a house? Taking a new job? Choosing someone to entrust with your children for ten hours a day, shaping their personalities and futures? Decisions that might affect the rest of your life – that you have to make in the blink of an eye.
How can you ever be sure you are sure?
Choosing childcare for example. Never done it before. Complete novice. No idea. But I’ve got three months and counting.
Where to start? There is no guide for this. No training course or safety net. And I seriously don’t want to mess up. A slightly trustworthy institution seemed like a good place for me to start at the time. So I tripped off to the council website, downloaded a list and began going through the child minders in alphabetical order. (In my area you have to LITERALLY sign kids up to the good nurseries before they’re born so I had already visited a few and decided I personally liked the idea of my little one being in a house rather than nursery set up).
The first cull was easy enough – did they bother to get back to my voicemail and then were they friendly and polite when they did? This knocked a spectacular number or candidates out before I’d even began.
Then I started meeting them.
First impressions seem amplified when you’re meeting someone’s house as well as the person. I turned up at one place where the flat was a full on battleground. War had clearly been waged between her, a toddler and a weaning baby. She had obviously tried to strengthen her line with a generous distribution of stair gates, door gates and play pens, which did nothing for the atmosphere.
The next place I visited was immaculate. The nursery was lined with clear plastic toy storage boxes with ages neatly ascribed to each one. Menus and food hygiene posters were glued up around the kitchen. The yard was spotless (and plant less). My thoughts were interrupted with a scream, one of her little dribble bibbed charges was tired and needed to be put down, would she excuse me.
But rather than crooning and gently taking him to bed she seemed to drag him and almost aggressively plonked him in the cot from a height. That was it. No soothing words of encouragement. Door closed. If she could be that cold and dispassionate while putting on her best front in what was effectively an interview, I shuddered to think what she’d be like behind closed doors – despite her Ofsted rating and neatly stacked boxes.
I was beginning to lose faith.
An old primary school friend of mine had said how she got on with her nanny so well they’d just had her round for dinner on the weekend. I could not imagine this ever happening from my search to date, but I was driven by knowing that it was possible you might find someone you really actually liked.
The last person on my rather desperate list was not from the council website. I had got her name through a friend’s brother’s friend…I was running out of options.
I was greeted at the door by Clare. She crouched down to my little girl in her pram and said ‘hello’ and then offered me a cup of tea! This was the first time either of these things had happened, I was blown away. This is what I wanted for my baby. During the interview (really a chat over a cuppa), Clare was warm and friendly to me and caring and attentive to the children in her charge as well as my own little pickle. She talked about how she loved being active with the children and taking them outside: they spent much of the summer having picnics and playing in the park. I love being outdoors so this was music to my ears as leaving the flat had seemed a bit too much like hard work for a lot of the others I’d met.
I liked this person and I liked spending time with her. I realised then that this search wasn’t just about safely feeding and watering my child while I was at work; it was about her being nurtured and cared for while I was away, even loved.
What I needed I could now see, was someone similar to me, with similar values and attitudes to health, exercise, life and relationships. This person would look after my child in the way I wanted, without it being an uphill struggle. This person would offer a visitor a cup of tea.
A piece of Ofsted embossed paper was worthless to me if I couldn’t have this. Some of the childminders I met were officially ‘outstanding’, but I had made a personal decision that I would not want my child looked after by them. I frankly just didn’t like them. I really had to judge for myself, choose according to my own values and priorities and go with my gut instinct. This was more important for me than a list of formal interview questions.