The great return to work has happened. I have left my two small charges for the first time ever in the capable and wildly energetic hands of our nanny, who is fast usurping me in their lives as "favourite parent".
Has my teaching changed now I have joined the ranks of parents?
I am certainly a little more tired – though that may be the 87km of walking I do every day between my classes, not just the fact that my youngest is in the midst of sleep regression.
How becoming a parent changed my teaching
One thing is for sure, though, my teaching of the following five texts is now rather different than it once was.
1. Climbing My Grandfather by Andrew Waterhouse
The speaker of the poem is a small child who scales the mountain of a grandfather, detailing at each step the "old brogues", the "glassy ridge of a scar", and finally the summit, where they hear the "slow pulse of his good heart".
I’ll admit that, previous to me actually having children, the thought of allowing them to swarm all over their ageing grandfather seemed invasive at best, but now just reading the lines makes me well up as I imagine the unspoken tenderness of the moment – the grandfather, easy-going as the child of their child finds calm listening to their heartbeat.
2. Afternoons by Philip Larkin
A pretty grim portrayal of parenthood, this, and one that I know rings all too true for many. Indeed, I have been that young (well, ish) mother, "assembled at swing and sandpit, setting free their children", but I think we can all empathise with the "hollows of afternoons".
Particularly, I imagine, on Tuesday afternoons when you have bus duty in the rain, before heading home to the second shift of bath time, stories and bed, before cracking out the laptop for a few more hours of work.
3. Mid-term Break by Seamus Heaney
It's an important theme to discuss, but an almost unbearable one now. This poem describes the unravelling of a family after the death of a child in a car accident, and details the various emotions deep grief has wrought: the speaker, 14 years old and discomfited by events beyond his comprehension; the father, usually "very composed", crying; the mother, dry-eyed and full of rage.
The final line describing the tiny coffin – "one foot for each year that he lived" will break you, parent or not.
4. To a daughter leaving home by Linda Pastan
This poem highlights how the tiny moments in parenting turn out to be the big moments: in this case, the twisting together of pride and anxiety as the daughter zooms away, bicycle riding mastered.
As a parent, knowing that these milestone moments are another step to independence is a curious mix – though the daughter is "screaming with laughter" as she grows smaller in the distance, the watching mother feels only that she is becoming "more breakable".
Anyway – one to ponder on before you start sniffing in front of a bemused bunch of Year 7s.
5. Poppies by Jane Weir
Another poem which will make your breath catch in your throat: the mother in this poem is "brave" as she waves her son off to a new life in the army, resisting the urge to rub her nose against his "like we did when you were little".
I will admit that, having taught this before I had children, my opinion of the speaker was slightly mocking – but now I can more than empathise with her longing to catch her son’s "playground voice" on the wind.
Laura May Rowlands is head of faculty for English and literacy at Woodlands Community College in Southampton