Welcome to the last part of the Mothering Fright’s Beginner’s Guide to Primary School. In this Guide, you will learn the secret of how to win at dressing up day, the art of recycling and why I will never, ever wear a pair of Crocs on a play date ever again. Enjoy.
Dressing up day
Dressing up day will strike fear into your heart. World Book Day: fuck right off. Sponsored Charity Day: just do one.
When World Book Day rolls round, remember this sage advice, as I rarely say anything worth repeating: do not, under any circumstances, Google ‘ideas for world book day’. Because if you thought you were a mediocre parent before that internet search, you will loathe your general craptitide with a real passion straight afterwards. Hideously complicated outfits are paraded on Instagram, from full-blown Willy Wonkas to quilted, colourful hungry caterpillars, often accompanied by a breezy comment such as ‘found some purple velvet lying around and made this three piece suit and a hat for Jonny as he just LOVES Charlie and the Chocolate factory! [Insertion of annoying emoji].Oh piss off. I have two words for you to remember when World Book Day looms: Harry Potter. God bless JK, because this is the costume of choice for parents who have better things to do with their time. It goes like this: one week before: EBay for cloak, glasses, tie and plastic wand. On the day: dress in regular school uniform, apply eyeliner lightning scar and throw eBay purchases in general direction of child. Done.
What is knuckle-chewingly irritating is the utterly spurious connection between a charity and the dressing up request. A letter comes home from school: We’re raising money for the county’s air ambulance service. Helicopters fly in the sky. The sun is in the sky. So please can all pupils wear yellow on Friday.
Yellow? Yellow? I cannot bear yellow, ergo my child has no yellow clothes. It’s a colour so sodding optimistic I want to grab it by its smug little neck and punch it in the face until it’s black and blue. Cue much eBay trawling to see if I can find a t shirt that is vaguely acceptable to a five-year-old that will deliver in 48 hours. And anyway, what’s wrong with a bloody ambulance with wheels?
One child’s art is another parent’s recycling
You may need to upsize your recycling bin, as a steady stream of ‘artwork’ is sent home. You will become expert in interpreting hurried felt tip scribbles and of finding ways of asking ‘what the bloody hell is that supposed to be?’ without actually using the words ‘what the bloody hell is that supposed to be?’ At one point early in the first term, my husband and I had a discussion as to the educational benefits of colouring an entire piece of A4 paper in blue crayon. We never found out. But either way, you will find yourself in your pyjamas, in the dead of night, silently feeding the aforementioned artwork into the recycle bin, then artfully laying an empty juice carton and screwed up newspaper on top to cover your tracks.
No doubt you already know some mums from various places, be it pre-school, toddler sessions at the local sports centre or Costas. Probably Costas. You will also know some mums that you wish you didn’t. You know, the ones you chat with as you watch your offspring not kick a stationary football at the fifth attempt who mention that their little Petey may try out for Arsenal next year. The ones that enquire as to which books your son enjoys, to which you innocently reply anything with lots of pictures of fighting in them, which is met with a smile of pity and a comment about how much Charlie simply adores reading Animal Farm and Great Expectations. The ones that three minutes into a conversation, as you mention that you loathed breast feeding or sometimes would gleefully string your kids up by their ankles or have fed your child chocolate buttons and they weren’t even at a birthday party, look at you with barely disguised disgust and you realise that you will never, ever be friends. Yes, those mums.
Well, becoming friends with mums at primary school is not that different. Just a little bit worse. And when I say a little bit, I mean a lot. Let me explain…
- Some mums are competitive. Look, I get it. We all want our kids to be great. Given the choice, if you were ticking the Offspring Request Checklist, you would tick ‘the best’ by at least a few categories. Sport? The best please. Music. Oh, the best please. Tap dancing? Not so much, maybe. No one ticks the ‘thick as shit’ or the ‘eye wateringly crap’ box willingly. But we don’t get to choose. I mean, for my eldest I may not have chosen ‘the best’ by the box marked ‘eye-rolling capabilities’, but you know, you have to go with what you’ve got. So, as I said, some mums are competitive. And then others are so uber-competitive they can’t help but shriek uncontrollably across the playground when their delightful little Jemima gets a gold star. Again. Whilst you stand behind her simultaneously wanting to poke her in the eye and pray that the teacher isn’t going to tell you that your slightly less delightful son poked someone in the eye with a stickle brick. Honestly, I don’t know where he gets it from.
- There will be mums who rock up looking like they’re about to go on a night out. Full make up, coiffed hair, clothes without mucus or Weetabix spatter on them – I know, incredible, right? Their wardrobe contains such essentials as a fur gilet, a bag that looks like a handbag and not a wipe-clean, sagging shoulder bag containing wet wipes and spare pants with Batman on them, and tops and trousers that are made from exactly the same fabric. These mums make me surreptitiously scrape off a dried bogey that was donated to my t shirt by one of my sons and force me to wonder if I can pass off these battered old Converse as old skool chic. Apparently not. It’s all about the Glittered Fit Flop, which up until this summer, I thought was a street term for a failed celebrity diet.
- There is always at least one mum who would not acknowledge your presence if you ran up to her naked and licked her eyelids. Despite friendly hellos, despite a smile and a nod, they will look right through you. No, I have no idea either.
- The playground conversations are where your parenting choices are thrown into stark relief and you find yourself creating the parenting Venn Diagram with the purpose of identifying those parents who align with your parenting world view. The “oh, we only let Camilla on the iPad on the last Friday of every month and she is fully supervised the entire time,” mum gets put in a circle that barely clings to my universe rectangle, ending up strangely close to the circle containing the parent who said “Bobby has watched all the James Bond films, and has seen the Exorcist, he loves it,” whilst those parents who express good intentions of limiting exposure to Stampy Longnose on You Tube but are failing miserably, get plopped with relief into my circle – the one marked Mediocre but Still Trying.
- And then, there are some mums who are bloody lovely. You arrange unrequested play dates with their kid and yours, for no other reason than to have a cuppa and a chat. You big up their child to yours, slowly and patiently brainwashing them into believing that Oliver is their best friend and wouldn’t it be nice to have another play date with him, and yes, it was only last week that he came over but Oliver is such fun, isn’t he? And then after a bit of that, you dump that strategy, and just go to the pub and get pissed with your new mum friend.
Parent assemblies. Christmas songs. Year group performances. In primary school, there are several opportunities each year to lose whole hours of your life that you will never get back. For most parents, it will be opportunity to have confirmed to you that singing, performance or anything that involves your child either speaking to an audience or in fact sitting still without picking their nose is not open to them as a career choice.
For more details on this delight, click here for a blow-by-blow account of a recent class assembly that I had to endure. Sorry, enjoy. That was definitely the word I meant to type.
Beware the primary play date
A little like the teacher’s home visits, those early play dates with your child’s new friends purport to be about one thing but are actually about something entirely different. Sure, you are going round to little Frankie’s house so that your son can play with his new little chum and they can indulge their mutual love of whacking inanimate objects with inflatable light sabres. Bless them. But what it’s actually about is sizing up a potential new mum friend. Or, dare I say, enemy.
Let me illustrate with this salutary tale. Picture the scene. All the new parents were attending a Meet the Teacher event at school in the July before our kids started that September. I got chatting to a mum, let’s call her…ooh, I don’t know… Frankenmum, whose son (let’s call him… Wet Weekend, for the sake of argument) would be in E’s class and we arranged for them to come over to our house in the summer so the boys could get to know each other, we could get to know each other and everything would be simply lovely. I mean. What could go wrong?
The play date rolled round on a hot and sunny day, so as promised, I cracked open the small paddling pool and got the sprinkler going and we all hung out in the garden, the boys in their swim trunks, us relaxing on the grass. Conversation soon turned to our kids.
“So,” said Frankenmum, “what is E academically?”
A small, cold finger of horror started to prod the inside of my chest.
“Errr…” I struggled to find an appropriate response to this question as I watched my son straddle the sprinkler and hoot with laughter as a jet of water shot up his shorts and blasted his testicles. “Erm…”
It became apparent quite quickly that actually, Frankenmum wasn’t much interested in my answer.
“You see, Wet Weekend is a scientist.”
The icy prodding became more insistent. An alarm bell started clanging in my head. A little voice in my ear whispered “Get the fuck out of this play date now.” There was a lot going on internally in those few seconds. Externally, I heaved a smile onto my face.
“Yes, he is so talented in this area, although he is at sports, too,” she continued, beaming.
As a small amount of bile rose in my throat, I realised I had made a terrible mistake. I am never going to get on with this woman, who has already decided that her four-year-old is going to be the next Stephen Hawking, only with an Olympic medal in the 800 metres dangling from his neck.
I made some non-committal comment about E being not so shit at Lego and drawing, and wondered how quickly this play date could be over. It was about this time E had discovered that he could fill his Croc with water as he passed over the sprinkler and then chase Wet Weekend round the garden, flicking water at him from his shoe. He thought this was hilarious. Wet Weekend, not so much.
“Mummy, tell him to stop, I don’t like it,” he whined.
I smiled. Boys.
Frankenmum didn’t smile. “Run faster!” she shouted at Wet Weekend.
The chase continued, with E now upgrading his Water Croc by taking it off and scooping water out of the pool. Wet Weekend continued to whinge despite the fact that E was such a poor shot there were no more than five droplets of water on him.
I laughed. Boys. But in the spirit of concession, I told E to stop.
Frankenmum didn’t laugh. “RUN FASTER!” she commanded of Wet Weekend.
“I can’t!” moaned Wet Weekend.
E came up to the pool, panting and laughing.
“Look,” said Frankenmum, barely bothering to hide her irritation that this boy of an obviously inferior intellect had bested her son in a game of splashing, “this is how you do it.”
At which point, she picked up my Croc that was lying on the grass, scooped up a Croc-ful of water from the paddling pool and threw it straight in my son’s face.
I will just repeat that in case you were momentarily distracted. She threw it straight in my son’s face.
Everything went very quiet, except for the panicked gasping of E who had swallowed half a Croc of water. My brain, trying valiantly but failing to comprehend what the fuck had just happened, decided to pack up and go for a restorative lie down, leaving me utterly agog.
Finally, I managed to scrape together a question in my head: what exactly is the appropriate response to this?
A: Pick up my other Croc and give her a faceful of her own medicine
B: Pick up my other Croc and slap her round the face with it, repeatedly.
C: Give Wet Weekend a science lesson about water trajectory he won’t forget in a hurry by sticking the hose up his left nostril until water leaks out of his ears.
D: Punch her supercilious, uber-competitive lights out.
Having consoled my son and wiped his face, it turns out I did none of the above. Not wanting to make an enemy of a parent before we’d even taken a step into the playground, and still reeling somewhat from what I had just witnessed, to my shame I just told E that I am sure she didn’t mean to throw water in a child’s face, and reluctantly moved on.
The moral of this tale? Beware the new primary play dates. It turns out there are no rules when it comes to competitive mums, so before you commit to that playdate, maybe run a theoretical scenario past them involving a sprinkler and Crocs and see what they say. Oh, and the other lesson I learned? Always wear flip flops to a play date.