“Hi, I’m on the parent rota today”, I chirp, as I attempt to manoeuvre the triple buggy over Preschool’s front step – the Big One’s (B1) BFF is also hitching a ride on the ‘piggyback’ today – his mum rendered housebound after she couldn’t find her keys on the way out. My feet lift clear off the ground for at least a second of uninterrupted flight, as I use the full force of my weight to gain leverage over the front wheels. “Oh…lovely”, retorts the CO* manning the door, the surprise in her voice unmistakable. Then dropping to a near whisper she lulls, “The parent rota isn’t compulsory, you know, if you’ve got stuff on”. I pause for a moment, mind racing – had she seen past the cheap veneer of my charm into the murky depths of my soul or was I the only parent that ever actually showed up on their turn? Whilst the words “isn’t compulsory” still churn in my stomach like a toddler’s leftovers, I reply with a cheeky smirk, “Oh no, I love seeing what these monkeys get up to” and in I stride like Beyonce on the Pyramid Stage, only with 99% less booty.
I look around, surveying the scene like a health and safety officer at Drayton Manor. Around 35% of the kids are sporting streaming colds, pretty good odds compared to my last visit, but oh yep, here we go – the snottiest ones always take an instant liking to me, regarding my resting bitch face as a challenge perhaps. One in particular actually whacks my arm harder than I appreciate to tell me something unintelligible, on repeat. We establish zilch rapport – I pick up the Small One (S1) just so I can shout “fuck off” into the sound-buffeting folds of her thighs. I make a desperate bid for the relatively safe confines of reading corner, already forgetting what happened on my previous visit. However I have to shout so loudly to make myself heard over the migraine-triggering cries of the two youngest wards, I am hoarse before S1’s first sneeze has finished ricocheting off the abandoned tome, “Don’t Put Your Finger in the Jelly, Nelly”. Sooner than I’d planned, I start watching the second hand on the clock.
Then in she waltzes, The Four Year Old, “Bella”, with her H&M sneakers and pink highlights in her hair. I don’t know whether it’s the way she draws stick men with bodies larger than their heads, or how adeptly she navigates a game of ‘I spy’, always avoiding the obvious (whilst the two year olds are still issuing code browns all over the joint), but she just gets me. As we’re discussing the tenets of Stoicism versus those of the commonly misinterpreted Epicurus, a particularly feral two year old makes a sudden lunge for S1. Bella’s eyes lock onto mine with mutual understanding and faster than she can cry “She’s going to hit her”, I’ve sprung onto my feet elevating S1 to the refuge of my shoulder. This girl: she has my back.
I won’t mention that outdoor play coincides with the heavens opening, or that we can’t go back inside until an AWOL inmate has been accounted for. Nor will I relate the disturbing sight of B1 and B1’s BFF, dressed as Superman and Batman, twerking against each other while chanting “butt butt”. Instead I finish with a tribute to the four year old with whom I connected and to whom I never said goodbye: Thank you Bella – you have given me hope for the future. I hope the rain didn’t ruin your hair.
*Correctional officer. Despite my conviction that ‘Orange is the New Black’ should have bowed out on a high at the end of ‘Season’ 1, it tends to be our fall-back televisual pursuit, with the result that American prison terminology often springs to mind. The environment and characters have become tired and when the storylines manage to avoid repetition, they are unbelievable instead. Despite this we have almost completed ‘Season’ 4. I guess that says more about me than the enduring American drama.