Raising children is like national service, and no one ever tried to run over an ex-serviceman on a zebra crossing just because he was walking slowly

13th January 2006 at 00:00
I've never really understood what people mean when they complain that Britain is not "child friendly". Before I took my two maternity leaves, I came from a world where, contrary to popular belief, people do actually like children. They are, by definition, central to school life: from little toilets, chairs and tables, to the countless minutes we give at break and lunchtime to get in a final piece of coursework. Now that I am the proud owner of two infants, I am beginning to realise there may be a reason why the UK sends its children to school earlier than most other European countries. Is it just me, or is there a nationwide conspiracy to make the lives of mothers with small children as difficult as possible?

Of course, it can be challenging carting around a manic 18-month-old, and a five-month-old who doesn't sleep, in a souped-up, turbocharged double buggy armed with enough equipment to deal with a spilt drink to a dirty nappy to a nuclear holocaust. But I've got something to say to fellow members of the public: mothers need to queue in banks and post offices, too. If my children make a little noise, or you have to step one centimetre out of your way to skirt my double buggy on the way to your counter, please don't give me a dirty look and tut loudly as if I have personally ruined your day.

And here's another thing, citizens of the world: it would be really nice if you could occasionally open a door for us instead of slamming it in our faces, leaving us like orphan Olivers with our noses pressed against the glass of lovely places we can't get into. Hey guys, lifts have an "open door" button for a reason, you know. And you, lowest of the low who take up parent spaces in your local supermarket car park, I need that space.

Otherwise there isn't enough room to open the car door and throw my babies in their buggy without scratching the unfortunate person who is parked beside me. You are on a par with people who take up disabled spaces without a blue card.

Sometimes, the stress of going out with my children is enough to bring on a bout of agoraphobia. Surely I get a few brownie points for contributing to the human race? I am providing the people who are going to pay for our pensions; that's got to count for something. It's the equivalent of national service, as far as I'm concerned, and no one ever tried to run over an ex-serviceman on a zebra crossing just because he was walking slowly. I think I deserve to live in a world where I'm not restricted to shops with automatic doors. I regularly leave shops without the goods I have paid for because I'm too stressed out by the disapproving looks I get while struggling to load up my buggy, put my purse away and pick up a lost dummy or toy car. Did all of these muttering people raise quiet, docile children? If so, can they tell me how it's done? I read a few months ago that the most popular word in the English language is "mother". If that's really true, why can't we act as if mums and children aren't just inconvenient encumbrances that make you late by one second if we happen to be cheeky enough to use up the pavement by toddling along? How else do you teach children to walk? On a treadmill? I could be raising the next prime minister for goodness sake, and if you give him an exasperated look one more time, matey, well, I hope he adds a penny to your income tax to fund higher pay for teachers and a free toddler gym on every corner.

Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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