Studying as a parent 

By Madeleine Thompson

I started a Post Graduate course in September and last week was hand-in week. I refer to my course as ‘grown-up school’ for the benefit of my children who are very little and don’t have much grasp of the idea of adults studying things. I have been going to grown-up school for the past few months and over the weeks preceding this one, I have been hard at work researching and writing my first assignment.

I would like to tell you this was a breeze and that I am to grown-up school what the Meerkat is to car insurance. Alas, a breeze it was not. I found it was actually not that straight forward fitting in a part time study regime into a life filled with a lot of full time things. In my head I had envisaged nights where I would put the kids to bed without any fuss or problem (who was I kidding) and then trot downstairs, put on my slippers and get to work. Reality? After the kids were finally in bed, I had my ‘phew’ moment. I could breathe out, trot downstairs, put on my slippers, and actually the last thing I wanted or felt inclined to do was get the books out. So I mostly opted for a crime show on TV with my husband, a hot chocolate and an early night.

With nights wiped out, that left weekends. Again, in my head this meant the mornings when I’m on breakfast duty (we share lie-ins – it is a very democratic household), I would get up with the kids in a charming fashion, dress them, feed them, put on a pot of (fresh) coffee and do my work whilst they played like angels.

Again, not to plan. Kids seem to have a built in detector that senses when you are about settle into doing something, safe in the knowledge that, for at least a few minutes, they are not fighting, crying or falling over. They sense this, they wait, and then they pounce. So those blissful mornings of work turned into nothing of the sort. When I opened a book, suddenly a mega blocks tower needed adult assistance (mainly due to my superior adult height), or a teddy needed a bandage because he had broken his leg, or one child chose that moment to poke the other in the eye or draw on the wall. I think I probably got a bit more work done when Christmas arrived and the genius programmers at CBeebies uploaded back-to-back pantomines onto iPlayer. Fab.

So I was making slow progress. And then my husband started taking the kids out for blocks of time over weekends, or even taking them away. Finally I had some time. Amazing, valuable time to get my work done. Bingo.

But have you ever found yourself, after being really busy, suddenly having some time that you actually need and that is exclusively yours, yet you find you’re not ready to use it?

Give me an hour and say “Madeleine, this is your time, just for you. You decide how you use it. No limits and no pressures.” Do you know what I would do? I would clean the floor. And then hoover the rug. And then empty the dishwasher. Wash some clothes. Put out the recycling. Wash the cushion covers, change the beds, clean the windows, find some dust that nobody can see and remove that. Basically, if it doesn’t need doing at that moment I will do it.

It is almost like I have to get ready to relax or do whatever the time is actually supposed to be for. And my study weekends were no exception. Almost as soon as my family left the building, I was in the hoover cupboard (collecting the hoover, not because it is fun being in there). And I didn’t settle into work until everything was tidy and I felt ready. Perhaps my cleaning therapy was my getting ready ritual.

Ultimately, I got my assignment done and handed in ahead of time, which was an achievement for me (and something I never, ever did when I was at not-grown-up school aka undergrad university).

Fingers crossed it is all okay and I have passed. I can look forward to the next one now but I need to make sure I stock up on cleaning products first.

 

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