We are extremely blessed to have amazing people on both sides of our family and a bunch of fantastic friends. Despite living in different countries we stay in touch in all the ways that modern friends and families do through a combination of telephone, Skype, FaceTime, email, Facebook and instagram and therefore do not generally feel that we miss out on events in the UK. However, since Teddy has arrived I am more conscious of time flying away from us and I feel more keenly the months passing without us having actual physical face to face contact with the people we love. Whilst all the methods of communication named above have an amazing purpose nothing can beat spending actual time in real life with family and friends and this week has been a reminder of that fact.
Last Sunday the first of our half-term visitors arrived in the shape of my sister-in-law, her husband and three boys aged 8, 5 and 3. On Thursday we waved goodbye to them as they drove back across Germany and Holland to return home on the Rotterdam-Hull ferry. We filled the time with ice-creams at the amazing eis cafe in town, a trip to Bielefeld Tierpark (a brilliant free zoo), a day skiing in Winterberg (where two nephews skied for the very first time, the older one skied for the first time since he was 3 and the littlest one finished the day saying he never wanted to leave), a morning wandering around the market (with the requisite hot chocolate obviously….) and an afternoon at the local swimming pool. Whilst all of these things have been brilliant fun what I have enjoyed most is seeing Teddy interact with his ‘big’ cousins. He is the first grandchild on my side of the family and so whilst much adored does not have quite the same kinds of experiences that he does when we see my husband’s family where he is number 8 (and boy number 7) grandchild. Watching his face light up as his cousins let him join in with their games has been delightful and I am already looking forward to our big family holiday in August when he will be with all 8 of his cousins. As our only child (although hopefully not forever!) he has a very different time at home than when at his childminders (who looks after a number of older children) and I am always quite conscious of ensuring that he has plenty of opportunities to play with other children. He was in his element throughout their stay and was very bad tempered for the afternoon after they had left as suddenly he was back to being with just boring old Mummy and Daddy (even if Daddy is the best thing since sliced bread at the moment……)
Thankfully, that evening more family arrived in the shape of Teddy’s paternal grandparents. Having not seen him since early December (other than on the iPad screen!) he had a lovely hour before bed of Nana and Grandad cuddles and even treated us to his first proper steps (if we don’t include the occasional stagger he has done over the last few weeks) The following day my parents and siblings arrived (and no, we don’t really have a big enough house for all these guests) as we had decided to finish the half-term holidays with an early 1st birthday celebration. As both my husband and I are from families of teachers everything has to be crammed into school holidays so for most people it was very much a flying visit but a much appreciated one none the less!
The last week has demonstrated two things; that we have amazing families (which we did know but it is always good to be reminded!) and that face to face time with family and friends is something to be truly thankful for. It has made me even more excited about our move back to the UK this summer as Teddy will be able to spend more time with the grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins who love him so much. For lots of people this kind of interaction with family is something that is easy as people live near each other and see each other regularly. For us it has to be planned and can therefore sometimes be lacking in spontaneity. However, these ordinary moments of Sunday lunches, picnics, games on the beach etc are what I think about when we are living miles from family faced with making friends all over again. It is family (and I am including my closest friends in this group) that is constant whilst everything else in our lives is changing yet again and I consider myself a very lucky girl to have such an amazing safety net beneath me in the shape of an amazing bunch of people!
Bonding with his cousins aged 8 months!
This ‘helpful’ comment from a SAHM came just before I went back to work. I mulled it over, went home, burst into tears and spent the next few days worrying that my baby would be utterly traumatised at being ‘abandoned’ by his mother and would think that I didn’t love him enough. Once I had spoken to my husband (who is happy I am back at work but never put me under any pressure to return so soon) I realised that I had taken the comment too much to heart and that I needed to let it go.
I went back to work last September when my baby boy was just over six months old. Had I been teaching full-time before his birth and therefore qualified for full (and very generous) teacher’s maternity leave I would probably have left it a little longer and enjoyed a few more months of eating cake and drinking tea. However, having been out of regular employment since arriving in Germany (bar a couple of weeks of supply) when what appeared to be the perfect teaching job came to my attention I had to make the decision to either remain out of work until we moved again this summer or take the opportunity to get another year under my belt. With a fairly dodgy looking CV as a result of all the moves I decided to find out a bit more information about what the post entailed and then make a decision.
Having engineered a meeting (in Costa naturally so I could have more cake) with my potential new boss I wrote down what I was looking for in a job so that I didn’t get bamboozled into taking on more than I wanted to. At our meeting she asked me what hours I could offer. I took a deep breath and said “two-three days and it all has to be local to where I live”. The response was positive, we talked a bit more about what the job would entail and it was agreed that contracts would be sent out. It was the easiest teaching position interview I have ever had! No lesson observations, no need to produce endless amounths of evidence to prove qualifications and courses attended etc etc etc etc and a month later the job was mine.
My next step was therefore finding childcare for Teddy which is a lot harder out here in British Forces Germany than it would be if I was in the UK. Having established that only one British nursery did the hours I would need and that it was a thirty minute drive from home I decided to go down the childminder route. The next few weeks saw a round of visits to local British childminders before I found the one that I thought would suit Teddy the best. Just before I went back to work Teddy did a number of settling sessions with his childminder which were all fine and which made my actual return to work much easier! He has been unbelievably settled and has never cryed or been clingy on a single drop-off. This is partly down to the fact that he has always been a relaxed baby happy to be held and looked after by other people but is mostly down to the incredible care he receives from his childminder. It has been good for him on so many levels; he is very sociable and enjoys playing with all children and his mobility and speech have greatly benefitted from him being around slightly older children. We also have the option in Germany of sending children to German nurseries. We opted not to do this knowing that we wouldn’t be staying here past 2014 and that there would be little benefit to Teddy in terms of language as we would not be in a position to carry on speaking to him in German once we left. If we were staying longer term I would definitely have considered it as having a second language would be fantastic for him. The German nurseries are also considerably cheaper in that you pay an amount depending on your earnings and even if you earn mega bucks this amount is very low in comparison to the UK.
I feel that returning to work was the correct decision for me but recognise that it does not work for everyone. I have been extremely lucky in that Teddy’s childminder is fantastic and that he is happy to be there; watching his face light up in the mornings when he spots the other children there is fantastic and I think that socialising in this way has been amazing for his development. As a result of our experience, I will try to find childcare for him on a couple of days when we move in the summer as even though I will probably not be working I think it is important that he remains happy to be looked after by other people.
The decision to return to work is a tricky one for all mothers and it is not an easy one to make. We hope to have more children and I know that the cost of childcare for more than one child would make returning to work in the UK nonsensical for me. I am therefore making the most of being able to have the best of both worlds whilst I can. Childcare is very cheap in British Forces Germany (I pay €5 per hour dropping down to €2.50 per hour in the school holidays when I do not need the care) which means that even my part-time salary is worth working for. Having looked at nurseries in the area we will be moving to in August it seems that I will be paying quite a bit more than that and he therefore will probably not be able to do the same number of hours until he starts on the subsidised sessions. I very much feel that I have the best of both worlds. I have Mondays and Fridays at home with Teddy and take him to baby groups or spend time with friends with babies on both of these days. We also enjoy just having a bit of a chill out though and if the weather is truly horrendous are happy just to potter around at home enjoying each other’s company. However, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I get to have grown up time where I can use the few brain cells that haven’t been zapped by child birth and enjoy three days of teaching.
Most importantly (at least in my materialistic eyes) I have my own money and can therefore buy new things that I don’t remotely need whenever I want…… And that is the main reason I returned to work!