Since we made the decision that I would not be returning to work, I've felt The Guilt. The Guilt is a mysterious beast, cropping up when I least expect it and playing on my thoughts. I can move past t, talk about it, turn my back on it, but there it lingers, a small silhouette behind my shoulder. And it relates to so much.
I have The Guilt of not doing this for The Bear. Silly guilt, because never has a child thrived more in nursery and pre-school than The Bear. He was one of those children who really, genuinely loved each day he spent there. In Hull, we were lucky to have some wonderful staff working with him, who treasured his progress almost as much as we did. He wasn't just A Child, he was The Bear.
And yet, I feel The Guilt. I went back to work when he was 10 months old, working 4 days a week. A year later I went up to fulltime hours in a different role, but with the benefit of working term time only. The Bear has always been a child who loves, needs socialisation - he is far more of a social butterfly than I could ever be - one of those individuals who enters a room with a presence and slots straight in. I love this characteristic because it's one I always wished I possessed myself, but The Guilt questions if, perhaps, just maybe I have forced this characteristic upon him because he spent so much time in the care of others?
And if I see it as A Good Thing, this characteristic, then is my decision to stay at home with The Rooster a selfish one? Don't I want him to have the same love of everybody, of people and places and experiences that The Bear possesses? It's really a nature or nurture question, and I suppose I will never have the answer.
One way that I hope to assuage The Guilt is by, 10 months into The Rooster's life, braving parent groups. I have tried so hard to avoid these, but, for the good of my son, and knowing the importance of socialisation, I need to do this. I have promised myself that, after half term is over, I will seek out groups for us to attend. At least 3 a week. This may be the hardest thing that I have ever done.
Since moving to the South West, I have become more of a recluse than ever. I can now smile, and occasionally do small talk with the other parents at the dreaded school gate, but I lack a feeling of comfort. I lack a friend. Not a day goes by when I don't miss my best friend, and it's rare that 2 days pass without us texting, but I owe it to The Rooster and to myself to see if we can put down roots here too.
The Guilt moves over on the bench, peering at me. Next to it sits The Fear. They join hands, nod in acknowledgement toward my gaze.