We are the hapless founders of a north west of London commune. My parents have given their itinerant offspring the run of most of the upstairs of their home. Boys get a playroom. Husband and I have a living room and a bedroom in the clouds beneath the skylights of their wood clad attic room. An upscale tenement. I’ve learned to line up the cutlery in my mother’s drawers with a spirit level, tidy up after myself (ish) and curb my fastidiousness (I’m an awkward room-mate). Granddad reads to Boy and lassos Chimp when needed. Grandma and I take it in turns to cook the feasts. Husband cleans up after us. The house is happy noise.
“Are your lunches silent?” I ask the head teacher when we visit the local school.
“Good heavens no!” she guffaws. In Boy’s New York City school, the children ate in terror of unleashing the lunch ladies’ wrath. Now I look back, I’m certain they were retired prison wardens. The head teacher opens the second grade classroom door. The teacher and I squeal with recognition; she is a girl I danced with for years at my local dance school. I once taught her how to perfect her step bull-change. Now she’ll be teaching my kid addition.
We head back to the main gates, Boy jumping from foot to foot with excitement, Chimp dismantling everything in his wake. I ask the head teacher about the homework schedule. She explains that a task is sent home on Fridays for completion by Monday – flashback to the gruelling daily four page homework sessions in New York. This London school is on to something. Aside from academics, she tells me it may be something as simple as baking a cake with our child. Didn’t she get the memo that baking and me don’t mix? Cheap pun. Sorry.
Meanwhile, at work, I get to put on fancy shoes, have my face painted into kindergarten teacher, my hair sprayed into neat and work alongside the most unpredictable of actors: children. On my first day, the adults rehearsed a couple of times before the 7 year old leads and dozens of supporting child actors flooded the schoolyard with their parents. I was handed a large bell (a job I’ve coveted since I watched my teacher swing the ancient thing). The director shouted action. Trying to squeeze in my lines when the children improvised the order of theirs was challenging – no one will criticise the performances for being mannered that’s for sure!
The 50 episode series centres around twins. This one was about their first day at school. Every fibre of my being zapped back to the sunny Manhattan morning this time last year, as I hobbled out of our pre war apartment, a ravenous 6 week old before me in the stroller, and gave our Boy a smooch before he, and his folks, marched off into the unknown. I swallowed the tears before the second take.
While I write, husband chases Chimp around a toddler gym. A year’s attendance costs the equivalent of three classes in Manhattan – a rant that warrants 500 words of its own. Besides the huge governmental subsidiary for children’s activities, its strolls across Waterloo bridge, Boy on skateboard, Big Ben and St Paul’s Cathedral in our periphery, that lures me back into love with my hometown. And the roast dinners at the local 17th century pub aren’t half bad either. Here’s to new starts in old places. Or, as the natives say – beer glass in hand – “Bottom’s up!”