Separation Anxiety. August 29, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Social Policy, The Left.
This week I was in a creche. Nothing strange there you might say, and indeed there wasn’t. It’s just become a fixture for me each morning weekday. But… putting aside separation anxiety, it was a salutary experience in terms of opening a door into the past (and excuse my shameless solipsism in this post). In part it is smell. A while back I went swimming in a pool for the first time probably since before my teens. Thirty odd years or so and walking down a corridor from the changing rooms to the pool itself the smell of chlorine and the humidity brought back those Tuesday evenings in the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf where they used to have swimming lessons and where at the time my mind, for its own tricksiness, decided it would be great craic to conjure up the idea of a shark in the deep end… or better still no end to the deep in the deep end – if you see what I mean. The thought of swimming in an infinite depth was – different. Yeah, I was a happy ten year old and no mistake.
Anyhow, meanwhile back at the creche.
I’ve been in secondary schools many times over the years, but this was the first time I’d been in a creche for any length of time and there was something about the size of the furniture, the images on the walls and so on which just triggered memories that I hadn’t realised I had of my own time in junior infants many years ago. You want my memories of Scoil Lorcain in Kilbarrack in 1970?
Actually, I can’t give them. I wasn’t there at that stage, in fact I’m not sure whether it was actually built. We were in prefabs by the girls national school there for the first year or two. I remember going in bundled up in rain clothes. I remember winter, maybe even snow, and arriving so early in the morning that it was still dark outside. I vaguely remember there were sort of coatrooms just inside the entrances. I remember being very small. Next on the list a year or so later sitting at a little desk with a metal grill basket at the side for pens. The constant smell of urine and the pools of it under chairs. Marmite sandwiches, and on one memorable occasion sugar ones (the danger of having a grandparent who had lived through the war in the UK… tripe and pigs trotters was another byproduct of that). Being near enough uncomprehending as to what was going on. Add to that myopia, undiagnosed for a year or two and I’m amazed I learned anything at all. I do remember a couple of break ins where the trouble was attributed in tones of the most earnest gravity to bigger ‘bold’ boys. Happy days.
Meanwhile, still back at the creche.
Sitting there – in between the moments where I was overwhelmed by the past – I had the sense that somehow the children were being slotted right into prevailing economic structures. Now that sounds cold, and that’s not my intention. It’s an excellent, even amazing, Community Creche, housed in a building that wouldn’t be out of place in the pages of an architecture magazine… wait, what am I saying, it’s already been in one or two. The staff are great, interested and engaged. It’s socially mixed. The facilities are considerable. The children and babies (if that distinction is entirely meaningful) aren’t going to find the hours drag past.
What I mean is that, sure, it’s creche, and a little world unto itself, but the children there are now part of the Monday to Friday workaday world. Their hours conform not quite with general working hours. Some more than that, some a bit less. The days are broken up by much the same sort of events that those of us who waved farewell to school decades ago face. And that’s it. For them they’ve already entered into the socialisation process. At a year or two old, or even earlier.
Thing is that the reality for many many kids if not indeed most it was always thus. The ordered nature of the creche merely points up how tough it has been, and still is, for so many who have to juggle economic and social needs. That the economic reaches directly into the domestic to shape actions and events. And that the creche, and later the school, represents one of the great steps forward in at least attempting to ameliorate some of that for those that can afford it or are able to access it. Which isn’t to dismiss the alternatives whatever they may be and however people work out their own response to these sort of issues.
Still, there’s a part of me that wonders whether there isn’t a better way again to do all this.
I don’t know how we can reorganise those hours short of a revolution in working times and structures. Andre Gorz and others had some thoughts about that which I’ll return to some other time. But, as a first step I truly wish – even as a half-way house – that we had the sort of provision that is taken as a norm in the Scandinavian countries or parts of the continent where maternity, parental leave and child care are enabled by both state and the private sector and where the pressure that exists is to extend provision not curtail it. But, from much of the chatter we hear that’s not going to be happening here any time soon.
Birth. Creche. School. Work. Death. Even the Godfathers might have trouble getting that into a chorus.