My eldest son started Beavers when he was 7 1/2 and in Year 3. Because he’s one of the youngest in his year, many of his friends had already moved up to Cubs. I felt bad for him. He’d been on the waiting list for ages, but I just didn’t know how to get him there and back, so he’d missed out on a potential 18 months at Beavers and sharing the experience with his friends. Because at the time Beavers started, I was just leaving work 10 miles away, with a 15 minute walk to my car.
As soon as I realised after school club would take children across the road to Beavers, he started. And that was the start of me realising I could make a little change to my life to make all of our lives better.
When my eldest started school, and for many years afterwards, our lives were a complex patchwork of childcare arrangements. When my son was 4, I picked him up from after school club at 6pm on a Monday. It was the only day of the week I did that, and after school club is open until 6 for a reason, but I still felt bad. He was the youngest there and he was picked up last.
On Tuesdays, my Mum and Dad picked him up from after school club at 4.15 and they picked him straight up from school on a Wednesday. Thursdays and Fridays were easy because I had the kids.
While this was going on, my younger two were at nursery all day on a Monday and Tuesday. My Mum and Dad have always looked after the kids all day on a Wednesday. Once he was old enough, my younger son went to playgroup on Thursday and Friday mornings. And once she was older, my daughter went on Wednesday and Thursday mornings – giving Grandma and Grandpa a little break after so many years of looking after my kids.
When my younger son started school, he went to after school club too. He would be there on his own while his brother was at Beavers. I didn’t like to leave him until 6, so I started leaving work a little bit earlier.
My eldest started Cubs at 8 and his brother started Beavers as soon as he was 6 – taken across the road by after school club staff of course. Now I had a new challenge – I needed to be home with enough time to feed my eldest before Cubs started at 6pm. It became necessary to leave work no later than 4.30, and preferably a bit earlier.
I love my work. My job is challenging and fun and my colleagues are some of my favourite people in the world. But I love my kids more. In the run-up to my daughter starting school, I started doing the maths. I was working a full day, to put my kids under pressure, to never have any breathing space to PAY FOR AFTER SCHOOL CLUB.
And so I asked for, and was given, a shorter day on Monday. Now I work five hours instead of seven and a half (or the eight, or eight and a half it usually becomes).
It is remarkably easy to leave the office at 1.45. In many ways, it is easier than leaving at 4.45. The first time I did it, I swear the sun shone that little bit brighter. I felt relaxed and happy. The world was a better place.
For a long time my daughter had wanted to start dance lessons, but she’d never been able to because all the lessons at all the dance schools seemed to be when I was at work. But we found a local dance school that ran lessons straight after school on Monday and she started dancing the very day she started school.
So everything slotted into place. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself what is really important in life. Those two and a half hours have changed all of our lives. Yes, we’re still busy, still under pressure, but nothing like when I worked all day. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made.