There comes a point in every new parent's life when they finally pluck up the courage to leave their tiny bundle of joy in someone else's tender care. For us, it was in May 1996 when having settled Beth down in her cot and given my Dad very clear instructions, we made a dash for the local Harvester for our first 'date night' in about four months. I don't remember either of us having a mobile phone in those days, so we wolfed down our complimentary salad and our grilled chicken breast in about 45 minutes before legging it back home. I don't think we were gone for more than an hour.
I never did any babysitting myself as a teenager ... except, perhaps, for my youngest brother, Mike, when he would have been six or seven and I was already a highly responsible thirteen-year-old. I spent most of my formative years being babysat in boarding schools of one sort or another. But now, it would appear, I have finally become a childminder, though it is not quite as you might imagine.
It all started about 15 years ago when I took on some piano pupils. Some were very conscientious. But others were totally disinterested. Mummy (it was always Mummy) would drop them off for their 30 minutes of tuition, only to return with a bootload of shopping half an hour later. Daddy used to turn up in his running gear and go on a 5km run. The children, however, had done no practice whatsoever and would, invariably, play the same piece as they had played the previous week ... including all the same mistakes ... before handing over their £9.00 for the lesson and going on their way. I had become a babysitter ... and, at £18.00 an hour in 2005, a pretty expensive one at that. It was socially acceptable for your offspring to 'attend piano lessons', whereas admitting that you'd 'left them with the childminder for an hour' was an unforgivable faux pas.
Even today, I wonder whether most people see me as a childminder in my role as a secondary school teacher. It does feel, sometimes, that all I have done at the end of a full teaching day, is provide some mildly absorbing activity for a couple of hundred teenagers just so that their parents can go to work ... or do the shopping ... or go out to lunch. Many students simply aren't interested and, like the piano pupils, return week after week to repeat the same mistakes. And many don't seem to care much.
So are schools just creches on steroids to most people who don't work in them? Oversized nurseries where people drop off their children so that they can go off and do more important stuff like strike multi-million-pound business deals and go to Zumba with Kimberley? Given the recent directive that everything must return to 'normal' in schools in seven weeks' time, I do wonder. We mustn't, after all, inconvenience parents by insisting that they play a part in their child's upbringing, must we?
Never mind Cyclical School ... we need cyclical lifestyles. Ones where we have days when we rest and enrich our relationships with our nearest and dearest rather than just passing them over to others so we can go and do 'more important' stuff. Days when we stay at home and enjoy a leisurely meal or potter around in the garden in our pyjamas.
Surely, by now, technology should have 'bought' us some 'days off'? Instead of washing my clothes myself, I can get a machine to do it for me, right? I can microwave my dinner in four minutes. When I go to McDonald's I get asked "There'll be a thirty-second wait for your BigMac and fries - will that be OK?", as if I am going to say "That's preposterous! I can get a pizza across the road in twenty!". Instead, all that seems to have happened is that our 'more important stuff' (which isn't really important at all) has swallowed all that time up. Slow down and, as they say, smell the roses.
Sadly, I can't. I have anosmia.