The interview from Mars...
In April 2016 I landed on Mars.
By Mars I mean North London. Alyvia was 6 weeks old and I knew no one in the area. Having finally met some first time mothers, instead of talking about what an achievement it was to have a shower during the day or getting out of the house once in a while with our newborns, the conversation quickly turned from general introductory chit-chat to schooling.
‘Where have you enrolled your daughter for nursery? Where will she be going to school?’
Having looked around the crowd, it clearly seemed to be a valid question. Fellow mums were replying with their school choices and some of them informed me that they had put their baby’s name down as soon as they knew they were pregnant! I was sitting amongst aliens! I was sure they breathed a different air and ate different food to me.
It was similar to talking with the irritating work colleague who was the ‘clever-clogs’ at university and had every minute of their medical career planned for the next 20 years…and things were still going to plan! I thought they were from a different planet too!
Regardless, I still felt pressured to fit in. This was going to be home and I wanted to do things right.
State schools seemed to be a dirty word that no one would be caught discussing. Mothers knew exactly what they wanted here and did not plan on deviating from their (expensive) plans.
That night, I reported my conversation back to CD. He reminded me that I was not an alien and didn’t have to follow the crowd. We would do what was best for our daughter at the right time without any pressure from others. ‘What did he know…?’ I thought. I decided to do things my way. I wasn’t going to just listen to the other mothers and enroll Alyvia in whatever school they thought was the best…I would do my own research and make my own informed decision. This was a project for my maternity leave I thought.
16 months and another baby later, I extensively researched pre-schools and schools around the area. Not many parents sent their children to state schools where we lived. This was because state schools were few and far between. The only ‘good’ ones admitted children based mainly on a minute catchment area. Of course we didn’t live within the catchment area of any of those schools. So, the only chance Alyvia could go to a school that didn’t involve travelling miles and miles away and that had good pastoral care, was an independent school. In addition to this, there were waiting lists for all these schools if you were unlucky enough not to put their name down while you were 3 days pregnant!!!
After contacting the few schools I had shortlisted, I was informed I needed to put Alyvia’s name down as soon as possible. And to make things even more difficult, some schools did not even offer a tour! Luckily, the one that I thought most fit our criteria offered a tour with the headmistress and I went ahead and booked an appointment. I called CD at work and informed him that he would have to take the morning off that day while we visited the school.
On that morning, I managed to get Alyvia excited to see this new place, which would have lots of toys and lots of people to play with. Sophia also came along with us. I had timed her morning nap so that it co-incided with our appointment. Hopefully she would sleep through the entire tour.
When we entered the school, a member of the school’s reception team greeted us. A smile plastered on her face and overly polite was what I thought. It felt rehearsed. She informed us the headmistress would be with us soon. A few minutes later, along came the headmistress who looked very smart. She introduced herself and suggested we leave the sleeping baby in her buggy in the hallway while we sat down in her office. CD and I looked at each other as we felt the air of formality. He straightened his tie and I straightened my posture. Her office was big and bland and I felt like I was 6 years old again, back in my own headteacher’s office.
‘Hello Alyvia,’ she said politely. I suddenly became very nervous. My daughter was in the spotlight. I hoped she would at least say something in return and make eye contact. Alyvia just clung onto my blouse then worked her hand down it. This was not going well at all. I let out a nervous laugh as I pried her hand out of my top.
‘What does Alyvia like doing?’ we were then asked. CD replied that she loved colouring and making friends. Mrs X then added ‘…and obviously being outdoors?’ ‘Yes of course.’ we replied in unison.
She then opened her drawer of ‘props’ and handed Alyvia several different coloured shapes. She placed them on the floor and motioned for Alyvia to play with them. Alyvia sat down cautiously next to the objects and started playing with them. She had recently learned her colours and so CD asked Alyvia which colour she was holding. ‘Gween!’ said Alyvia while holding the red block. Mrs X laughed. CD ensured her that Alyvia was just teasing us and that she knew all of her colours. She then proceeded to watch Alyvia play for the next 10 minutes.
My final medical school exam before becoming a doctor was a practical one. We were given a dummy to resuscitate and were watched by a panel who observed our technique and practical skills. My ‘mini-me’ was going through a similar assessment at only 18 months old! Was I a bad parent I thought?
The room was eerily quiet and I dared not move a muscle. I could hear the clock tick and my own psychiatry placement as a medical student came to mind.
I watched Alyvia hoping she was passing the ‘test’.
Following on from this, Mrs X started to question us. It started off with where we were from and how long we had lived in the area, to where we went to school and what higher education we had completed. We answered each of her questions like robots as I felt myself being hypnotised.
15 minutes later, the questions had stopped and the tone of her voice suddenly changed. With her eyes glistening we were invited to see the school. I didn’t realise that I had been breathing in all this time and let out a huge breath. She smiled at me and looked at my attire before unlocking her office door and stepping into the hallway.
Alyvia loved the school along with all the attention from the older girls. The other pupils seemed happy, well-guided and carefree. Much to my amazement, Alyvia was very well behaved and after a while, warmed to Mrs X and spoke a few words with her. When we entered the school library, Alyvia’s eyes lit up and she ran to grab some books. She quickly sat on the floor and began to examine the books she had chosen.
As we prepared to leave, Mrs X led us to the reception area where we met the lady who had greeted us initially. We shook hands with her and politely said we would be in touch.
On the way home, Alyvia was clearly so happy with her encounter with all those children and could not stop talking about the books and colours she had seen. We were happy she was happy. That was all we needed to see.
CD and I looked at each other: - we had survived our initiation ceremony into mars and were now officially Martians!