Soup - The first chapter of my life working with children.
After 30 years in the business, I thought it was time to share some of my experiences of working in different areas of the early years sector here in the UK and in Japan.
I’ve worked with children from many different backgrounds. I’ve been on the panel that decides if a child should be removed from their family and taken into care or if they can be removed from the child protection register. I’ve worked as a nanny for families with second homes with swimming pools and electric gates, and even those who have their own island and speedboat on a different continent! It’s been varied and never boring!
My very first role was that of a nanny. I left home at 17, a few months before I would turn 18 to live with a family in a very small village not far from Edinburgh. Now the village was very small, but having grown up on the side of the hill where the nearest bus stop was a three mile walk the village was a metropolis to me. There was a bus stop, a post office, a park and a pub! But not much actually happened in the village so I did a lot of driving.
The nanny job was meant to be looking after a little boy who had recently turned one and his dog George. When I had moved in a waved goodbye to my parents, I discovered that the mum was pregnant and the baby was due in a few months. They must have had a lot of faith in me to leave their new born baby and her 18 month old brother with an 18 year old straight out of college, and my only actual experience was during placement during my training. They worked, as journalists of some sort I think, in Edinburgh which was about 40 minutes away in good traffic. I was left alone initially with just the little boy and the dog from 8 am to 6 pm (read 6.30) Monday to Friday.
I did really enjoy the job. We took part in lots of toddler groups, music and gym classes and had lots of little friends we saw regularly. But honestly, what were they thinking leaving an 18 year old in charge of two very small children for 10 hours everyday!!
I’m sure suddenly having a teenager living with them wasn’t a piece of cake for them either. I remember the time I freaked them out by disappearing out of the village on the back of a motorbike without a helmet. I didn’t get home until about 10 o’clock at night and they had been fretting about me and were waiting for me when I walked in the door. I had been invited to the cinema (in Edinburgh) by one of the few local boys who happened to drive a motorbike. He lived up the hill and we had driven for a few minutes to his house to get me a helmet which they obviously didn’t know. I also remember that I lost my beloved footie scarf on the ride up the A1 to the cinema!
I grew up in a working class home with blissful summer camping holidays, veg growing in the garden, and foster siblings who came and went. I had only been abroad a couple of times so going with the family to France was quite exciting. Oh yeah, we went with another family who had a little girl, and I often had to look after her as well! One day the little girl managed to get hold of a bottle of Calpol, and drank some. The lid had been left off of by her parents I might add, and the incident happened when she was in their care as well. Thankfully there wasn’t much Calpol left in the bottle, but I remember it well despite it being 30 years ago!
I experienced lots of things for the first time with this family. When we were on holiday in France we had soup for lunch one day. Now growing up in rural Scotland soup filled you up, it was thick enough for your spoon to stand up in! A flask of it warmed you up and fulled you for an afternoon of potato picking in a freezing field in autumn. I’m quite partial to a plate of soup. Well this soup sticks in my memory because it was gazpacho, and you know what that means don’t you? I didn’t. That first spoonful of cold soup was very hard to swallow. I would have loved to have seen the expression on my face!! It was quite the experience that shocked me to my core, cold soup! Who’d have thought it!
By this time I had a boyfriend, not the guy on the motorbike but one of the other boys who lived in the village. I had to walk to the telephone box to call him at night once the children were in bed. After the soup incident I called my parents too, to tell them of this new thing that was cold soup. I don’t actually remember their response but the memory of that first spoonful has never left me. I’m still not a fan of the old cold soup. Give me a steaming hot plate of tattie soup that’ll stick to your ribs any day. The novelty of being abroad soon wore off quickly and having very little time to myself and feeling lonely made the experience one I wasn’t keen to repeat.
I often drove the children to the grandparents where we stayed without the parents. Another culinary disaster happened on one visit which involved me reheating some duck a l’orange in the microwave. I had never eaten duck before and certainly never had an orange sauce with anything that was meant to be savoury! Luckily I was eating on my own so it went straight into the bin. This lead to me stopping in at the the chip shop whilst out walking the dog later that night. The dog of course went home on his own while I was in the chippy! I looked for him for ages and then returned to the grandparents house, where the dog was there to greet me! The grandparents had been very worried about me. The town where the grandparents lived is not a big place and I’m sure not much happens there so I’m not sure what they had thought had happened.
I stayed with the family for 18 months. The baby had what we now call reflux but I didn’t have a clue what it was back then and spent a lot of time scrubbing her projectile vomit from the carpets. I remember getting quite skilled at hearing the warning signs and running with her facing forward and pointing her into the bath! Don’t worry, she survived and is all grown up now. I found her on LinkedIn! I went into my second nanny role with a list of things I wouldn’t do. Going on holiday with the family and doing the parents’ ironing were two of them!
I moved to Edinburgh and moved in with my boyfriend. My second family were very different. A town planner and a history teacher who simply needed me to take care of their two girls, one about four years old and the other about six months. The older child had a port wine stain which covered the lower part of her face and her neck. Dealing with people’s reaction to this was the hardest part of the job. More so when she had a treatment which turned the area almost black. People stared and tutted, I have to say little old ladies were the worst.
Edinburgh was great place to meet other nannies and there were lots of things to do to keep us busy. We were very active, going to groups and doing lots of activities. I am still friends with many of the nannies that I met when I was in this job.
I left the job and worked briefly in a card shop and a little corner shop while I worked out what to do with my life. I moved out from the flat I shared with my boyfriend although we were still an item. I did move back in with him but I wanted to travel or do something with my life other than get married and have children. So we inevitably split up, and I later discovered that this was just before he was about to propose, and I moved back home.
To be continued…