There is a roundabout near where we live that has become a point of reckoning for the Major. Turn right at the roundabout and the road leads to his grandparents’ home: land of love, nurture and malted milk biscuits. Go in the opposite direction and there lies his nursery.
The Major is now intuitive to the significance of this intersection and his tension can be felt wafting through from the backseat as we approach. And when the car noses ominously to the left the screaming begins, underscored by the clacking beat of the indicator signal.
The first time I dropped the Major at nursery he protested in the most ferocious terms, unleashing a meltdown of terrifying intensity. At least I was terrified. The nursery staff presumably are battle-hardened to these kinds of explosions and his classmates only looked up briefly from their Rice Krispies before balefully chowing back down.
Each grim little finger had to be prised off individually by the nursery staff until the lapels of my coat were as shredded as my nerves. As I drove off I was filled with an onerous sense of having abandoned my own child, but consoled myself that the process would naturally become less taxing for all. But after two and half years it hasn’t.
Every time I leave him and escape from his room I can hear his yelps bouncing around the nursery corridors like a haunted mental asylum. His nurses have hit upon a tactic of carrying him to the nearest window to watch me walk to my car. I haven’t yet fathomed the reasoning behind this except to confirm to the Major that I am indeed deserting him and to confirm to me that the Major is still crying.
We introduced a reward scheme which incentivised the Major not to cry in return for Kinder Eggs. But this promise didn’t work. In fact the sight of Major sort of physically suppressing his tears down under his rib cage in a pitiful quest for chocolate even more upsetting. The Kinder Eggs went off a few months ago so obviously I had to eat them all, the small pile of unopened prize capsules a depressing visual reminder of the failed ruse.
Perversely the easier days are when the Major wakes up truculently and refuses to work with us on any level, requiring actual contorting into his clothes. On these mornings it’s a relief to hand him over, like passing on a peculiarly uncooperative relay baton.
In fairness to Major the nursery doesn’t offer an enticing proposition. It’s full of sad-eyed dolls and ancient fusty teddies. The walls are plain and often when the nurses are late switching on the energy-saving lightbulbs it more resembles a medieval dungeon. It’s regularly understaffed meaning that I’ve often presented the Major to a solitary harassed carer in the midst of a Rice Krispie distribution nightmare.
The nursery is owned by a holding company based in the US. A Google query reveals a very healthy share price, a nod to the fact that the Major’s caregivers are being run for profit and perhaps investment in the nursery isn’t as forthcoming as we’d like. It’s a concern that has been corroborated by a few of the less discrete nurses. There are no market forces at work here, no means of exercising consumer choice. We are beholden to our postcode; my wife looked at an alternative nursery nearby that boasted something called a dedicated sleeping room for babies, which turned out to be a cupboard.
We have removed the Major from his nursery. We are extremely fortunate to be able to fund a nanny for two days a week and a sainted granny who can pick up most of the slack in the mean time. We just have to find a nanny now, the mostly likely source currently is one dangling from an umbrella on the East Wind. I’m aware that this is an obnoxiously middle-class problem to have, but a problem nevertheless. And at least we’re turning right at the moment.