When we married, we lived in Lincolnshire. I was a midwife and health visitor and my husband was a self-employed carpenter. William was born and I looked after him for the first three months. At the time I had him, my employers gave women a compulsory return-to-work contract for at least six months if they wanted to retain their benefits.
My husband did not believe that it was a man’s place to look after babies so there was no point in asking him to help. It transpired that my father had been recently made redundant and was more than willing to have William. They had a great time. I really think it cemented an important relationship between them and my dad enjoyed the responsibility. I wasn’t quite as happy, as I wanted to be the parent to my first-born. I couldn’t wait to get away from work and look after my own child.
I resigned from my work and stayed at home to look after William. I discovered that I wasn’t the homebody I thought I would be. I needed something more in my life. At the time of William’s birth, there were no pre-school facilities in the village. I knew that my child needed the company of other children, so I helped set up a Mother and Toddler group. This was very successful. I also assisted in the next phase of pre-school provision by joining the PPA (Preschool Playgroup Association, now Pre-school Learning Alliance).
The vicar’s wife set up the first Pre-school in the church hall and, again, William loved going there to meet his peers. By this time William was three years old. I had Harriet who was such a different child to William. The policy of the local primary school was to register and enrol children from their fourth birthday. The Head insisted that William start school and threatened that, if he didn’t, his place would not be available and he would have to go to a school outside of the community. We didn’t want him to become isolated so we accepted this bullying approach because we wanted our child to be happy.
Looking back, I can see that the school must have been low in numbers and was probably fighting for its existence. It was one of the worst decisions we took. William was plunged into a formal setting with no real opportunity for play and creativity. I really think he missed out on a year of just playing and being a child. William has never really enjoyed the formal educational setting but has managed to become a well-educated, well-liked individual who is just about to complete his second year at university studying classics. In order to achieve this, he has overcome the debilitating effects of dyspraxia and diabetes, which at times threatened his life. I am incredibly proud of what he has achieved and know that whatever he chooses to do in his life, he will do it well with enthusiasm.
Harriet was more measured in her approach to life. What we realised quite early on is that William was not designed to be a small fish in a large pond. He always wanted to organise and lead, with often chaotic results. When Harriet reached the age where socialisation becomes necessary, she was fortunate to begin attending a local nursery come childminding community, run by an ex-Norland Nanny and her colleagues who were all either ex-Norland Nannies or registered childminders or both. The children had a large house to play in and every child was nurtured and supported.
By the time Harriet was of school age, the rules had changed and she started school when she was five. She has enjoyed a calmer school career and is currently completing her first year of AS and A levels and is a very promising young rower. She also suffers from diabetes but like her brother, has not allowed this condition to affect her life.
For more information about dyspraxia see www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk.