As a mother who uses daycare, I often wonder whether I’m alone in finding the end-of-day ritual that is “the nursery handover” boring as hell. At 6pm every day I find myself sitting alongside a miserable, exhausted woman, perhaps not yet in her twenties, and she’ll be reading out something along the following lines with complete and utter disinterest:

He ate all of his broccoli tagine for lunch, half his afternoon snack, soiled at 2.27, wet at 4.39…

Inside we’re all dying. Apart from Youngest, who’s going mental with the Happyland bride and groom while he waits for us to finish. None of us gives a shit. Although occasionally things will take a slightly more dramatic turn:

Soiled at … Ooh, they haven’t written down what time he was soiled at. It was Jade that changed him. Hang on, I’ll ask. Jade! JADE!!! WHEN DID HE POO HIMSELF LAST???

I haven’t the heart to say I don’t care about the poo diary. That all I really want to know is whether he’s been happy. Whether he’s been happy and also whether he’s stopped trying to poke Jeremy in the eye with the Ikea forks.

There has been one solitary handover during which things became marginally amusing. It all started off as normal then suddenly took a turn for the surreal:

Today he’s been playing with the stickle bricks, painting a picture of the Gruffalo and talking about Strange Clanger.

She paused. I looked at her. She looked at me. Both of us knew this couldn’t be quite right. After all, The Clangers were almost before my time, definitely before hers, and three whole decades before Youngest’s. And, moreover, they were all quite strange. There wasn’t just one who was singled out for that epithet.

Strange Clanger? I’d better ask Jade. Jade! JADE!!!

Jade was about to come over, brimming potty in hand, when thankfully I worked it out (what with me being a linguist and all).

It says “stranger danger”, not “Strange Clanger”!”

Ah yes. That was what it said. And this led me to draw several conclusions:

  1. Youngest will now want to talk to strangers just to spite me
  2. Whoever filled in this handover sheet has rubbish handwriting
  3. The poor girl telling me about my two-year-old’s day hasn’t a sodding clue what he’s been up to.

(It also led me to wonder which of the Clangers was in fact the strangest. But that can be the subject of another post.)

As the above anecdote might indicate, my son’s nursery isn’t all that great. The handover’s just the tip of the iceberg. The only green space is provided by astroturf. They have a behaviour chart based solely around who does the tidying up.* They have a “phonic of the week” (argh! it’s not even a phoneme, it’s just a sodding letter of the alphabet, you morons!). Worst of all, the staff are all very young and, I suspect, underpaid and at the mercy of insecure shift patterns. It is not a glorious haven of love and learning. It’s a franchise and you can tell. So what am I doing sending one of the most important people in my life there every working day?

I have tried to switch nurseries. Youngest was on the waiting list for our local Sure Start daycare and even made it to the top, but then they changed the opening hours. They now close for the day at 12:30. Presumably this is to suit parents who don’t have jobs, and therefore don’t need to use a nursery and who can prove, once and for all, that there’s no need to offer these subsidised services any longer. Anyhow, my office might have flexible working hours, but even they won’t let you sod off at 12 noon every day. So there we are. Every day we return to the same place and every day I have to leave my child behind, back to “phoneme of the week” and pretend grass and young girls who are probably too worried about whether they’ll be getting “lunchtime cover” or a proper shift to bother listening to his amiable babblings.

Sometimes, just as we’re turning into the car park, I hear a voice from the back seat. “I don’t want to go to nursery!” Only he doesn’t say “nursery”, he says “nusetry”, which is extra cute and therefore extra heartbreaking, although it’s no doubt music to the ears of the average Daily Mail reader. It’s okay once we’re through the door, mind. He runs off and doesn’t even say goodbye. But he’s just sparing my feelings, isn’t he? What with him being a toddler and totally empathetic and not remotely self-absorbed.

When you send your child to nursery, you’re meant to have thrown your lot in with the nursery system. You’re meant to go on about how ace it is and how much he or she learns and how much better it is for both you and your child. How much more he or she gains from being with other children and not just with you tearing your hair out over the dirty washing. How important it is for him or her to see Mummy working and being an independent person. Blah blah blah blah blah. Some of this is true for me, perhaps all of it is true for other mothers. I just wish I didn’t feel so constrained not only from voicing misgivings, but from even having them.

I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mum, first because I’m the only person in our household in paid employment, but second because I seriously think I’d go a bit mad. And in saying ‘”mad” I don’t mean that actually, I’m way too intelligent to be a SAHM and that my poor, stimulus-hungry brain would explode. I know a lot of highly intelligent SAHMs. But they are them, and I’m me. I know from my recollections of maternity leave that it would end badly both for me and my children. So instead I’ve made a compromise. It’s not perfect, but it’s not the end of the world, either. I think I have happy children, but the environment they’re growing up in isn’t always the one I’d like it to be.

Am I allowed to say that? Is it acceptable? Should women like me even be having children? Before I became a mother, I was committed to feeling no regrets whatever I did. This was of course very naive, but it was borne of a desire not to slot my own experience of motherhood into broader moral messages about what women should be and do. So my son’s nursery isn’t great. This doesn’t mean that mothers shouldn’t use nurseries. Just that nurseries could be better.

When I am older will I feel that I have damaged my children? Almost certainly. But not through being a feminist, or through going out to work, or through leaving them with people who don’t know what phonemes are. I will feel I could have done better because any parent who doesn’t is a total twat. Beyond that it’s all minor details.

Still, it would be nice not to feel this way. But it seems self-indulgent to dwell on it any longer. Back to more important matters. Such as, does the Soup Dragon count as a Clanger? And if not, is Clanger a species name or a family name? And is Oliver Postgate still alive? These are the things that matter.

* The behaviour chart thing might not sound bad, but in essence it ends up being based around who attends nursery most frequently. Hence when Eldest only attended once a week, you’d look at the chart and assume he was a complete and utter knob. When he just hadn’t been in as much as the others, some of whom were much bigger knobs. Not that I ever complained about this (apart from once, when I was having a bad day. Thereafter we agreed a “special weighting” for his tidying up. It’s important to help nursery staff use their time in a valuable way).