One of the big challenges of office life is giving meaning to your day so you're not fire fighting the whole time. Having the ability to carve out identifiable time and space can make or break a career. At heart, I always thought that's what having a strategy was really all about.
No surprise, life at home with the kids presents the same challenge. It's easy to find yourself spending the whole day calming tantrums and chasing peas around the floor. Having a purpose to the day, and getting out and about is vital. Luckily, our village is not short on things to do with small children.
|"...there is no messy play club."|
[SPOILER ALERT: I'd like to stress that I have huge respect for all who run the groups below and they are a life line for me and many others. Any mild mocking should be taken entirely at my own expense.]
Toddlers (£2) on a Monday is a no nonsense affair. If it was a cup of coffee, it would be nescafe and infact that's what's on offer. Up to ten babies and toddlers plus mums and occasional dads in the local cricket pavillion. Sometimes the older kids roam the room grabbing toys, sometimes the babies take over and the smell of trapped poo is overpowering.
Messy Play (£1), Tuesdays, seems to be a bit of a village institution. It's on every other week with occasional gaps for holidays. There's a sense of expectation and genuine excitement when details of the next date are released. People will catch your eye in the playground and say the delicious phrase, "Messy Play, it's on!" Held in the Baptist Hall with different activities laid out: sand pit, painting etc. Then a story (usually Bible based) and a sing song. If it was a coffee, it would be a nice but overfull cup of filter. Though as you'd expect, they serve instant.
Recently, it looks like the local CofE have spotted a gap in the market for the every other Tuesday slot when 'Messy' (as I've now learnt to call it) is not on. So they've launched 'Bears and Prayers', with songs, stories, prayers and playtime. Now, I'm not what you'd call an alpha male. If I was a cup of coffee, I'd be a latte not a machiato. But this one is over even my manhood limit. I just can't bring myself to go to a group called Bears and Prayers. I mean for goodness sake, I used to work for someone who worked for someone who worked for the Director General of the BBC (well, until we all got restructured). I've spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on pointless software at the click of my fingers. I've nodded at Jim Naughtie in the lifts of Broadcasting House, and he's nodded back! I have a reputation to maintain. So Eliza (who'd probably love it) won't get to see this one in action. Sorry Eliza.
But, she will always get a place at Jumblies (£1.50). Held in a church in the next village along on a Wednesday, it's a very slick baby music group. Two sessions so you can choose your time. You get a name badge on the way in for you and offspring. The songs are themed to help give it purpose, and best of all we always start with a sung introduction for each child...
"It's good to see Robbie here,
It's good to see Eliza here,
It's good to see Sarah here,
how are you today?"
Now that's something I'd happily take back to working life. All good meetings start with everyone introducing themselves. Imagine how much more ice would break if it was sung?
"You have to choose between the church and the pub..."
Earlier this week, a woman sidled up to me in the playground and gave me a key. Apparently I put my name down on a list and I'm 'opening up' for Toddlers on Monday. I have to unlock, buy the fruit for snack time and bring the milk for teas and coffees. It's a clever idea, I feel more involved already.
All these groups are of course a huge help to a family like us finding our feet in a new location. It's also interesting to see the Churches reaching out to folk who I'd guess rarely set foot in the door on a Sunday. I think rural, or even semi-rural communities need the Church. As the song line has it, move to the country and you have to choose between the pub or the church. Pubs are rubbish for toddlers and with the Church declining, that just leaves the off licence. The novelty of the 5 'o' clock beer because I'm at home and I can hasn't worn off yet, and I don't think I'm the only dad to use it as an occasional way to structure the day. But it's not a strategy I'm keen to rely on with a toddler in tow, so I won't be founding the Beers and Tears group just yet.