We're out and about waiting for my daughter's gymnastics class to begin, and Mrs Nam is putting our daughter through her maths paces. Having had an extended half term break, us proud parents have decided not to let our kids off the hook, and my seven year old is grappling with challenges like "if I divided a cake into ten pieces and then gave seven of those pieces to my friends, how many pieces would I have left?"
School or no school, Mrs Nam is a firm believer that the kids need a little something academic every day. And sitting watching, I can see why. The mid term break has played havoc with my daughter's concentration. The schoolwork is not interesting her at all, she is instead distracted by a nearby toddler with a Peppa Pig book. It's electronic and wonderful. Every fifteen seconds or so it echoes the cheery "Peeeeeeeeeppa Pig" refrain, beloved of children everywhere. It's not the slightest bit annoying, but if it happens again, I am going to toast myself a three year old. Well, maybe not because I actually quite like children, but you know what I mean. Grr!
I'm not even usually here. Usually I am in various places in central London, working hard to earn some cash to pay for classes like these. And I'm wondering what I'd be doing if I wasn't sitting here listening to Ms Pig's cheery kiddie refrain.
I didn't really try as hard as I could have when I was at school, and having left with a bunch of high expectations but mediocre results, I do sometimes consider what might have been. For example, I love to write. I have spent my entire existence absorbing books and literature at a huge rate, as if someone were suddenly about to abolish them. This has filled me with words and I think a few are now being pushed back out again. The consequence of this has been a loose collection of short stories and articles, some children's poems, and no less than two half finished novels. Since unfinished novels don't pay the rent, I do actually have a real job, which means that I never have any time to finish my novels. It's Catch 22 (except it isn't, because that's a finished novel by Joseph Heller).
Like Yossarian, I too feel the constraints of cleverly worked and bureaucratic rules, surely designed to ensure that the commuter trap is well placed to snare hard working but naive victims like me. For example, I often don't have enough time to really complete my tasks during the day, and thus frequently resort to dealing with emails and desk-based trivialities from my laptop on several evenings a week. I don't get anything extra for this, but since many of my colleagues behave similarly (and moan about it), it has led to a situation where, if I didn't do it, and the work didn't get done, I would be exposed as the one with poor values and behaviours. Naturally, all my colleagues feel the same way, with the obvious consequence that our employer gets an awful lot for free.
This is one of many traps laid for the unsuspecting, and I imagine this type of thing has become more typical in a world of constrained finances. It's also the consequence of a mediocre job. The self employed at least stand or fall by their own efforts. And the high fliers get to enjoy the thrill of the completed endeavour. Us normal people...? Well, we commute.
But there is hope. My children do get to see their daddy. Regularly. Every day Mrs Nam and I play with our kids. We read with them. Do sums. Take them to zoos, galleries and museums, and exciting places at home and abroad. They do football, swimming, gymnastics, drama and dance. They're both doing well at learning the piano. And they do it with mummy and daddy there, encouraging them on.
Why am I telling you this? It's certainly not to gloat; there are many excellent parents I know who work and play hard and have amazing, delightful children. No; I'm telling you this as a cautionary tale. I also know far too many mums and dads who, sadly, will have "I missed my kids grow up" as a possible inscription on their tombstones.
My point is simple. These straitened times we live in have shifted the balance, and I urge parents everywhere to be wise to this trap. Your kids need you too, to prepare them for their lives ahead. And your reward is seeing it happen. That will be amazing.
Recently, I made an important personal decision. Mostly my work laptop now stays switched off at home (not always; it's not about being unreasonable or inflexible -- just mostly). This has had a major positive influence on my life. Now I usually get to see my kids. And you know what? I found time to start this blog, just a few months back. And I found time to take photos. And, just yesterday, the reason for this post: I dusted down my novel, and started work on it again. Wow! It may never be published, but it WILL be finished!
This time has made my life immeasurably better. I'm so glad I took such a positive, assertive step. Think about it. What could you do if you made yourself and your kids some time? Who knows. Now if Peppa Pig would just be quiet, I will continue to concentrate on changing my life for the better. Oink.