Tag Archives: primary school

The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 3

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?

dressing_up_magic

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.

Mum Friends

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  1. 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.

Performances

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.

water_croc

 


The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 1

Some may still consider me a novice primary school parent, what with my son shortly to be only going into Year 3. However, in those three short years, I have learned much of the mysterious ways of the primary school. So as my youngest now embarks on the good ship Primary, I think it is time I spread my anti-wisdom around a bit for all those parents out there who will also be untying the mooring lines from their offspring and pushing them off into the uncharted territory of school, to watch them bob around aimlessly whilst they learn to work their rudders. At which point I shall gracefully swim away from this boating metaphor, as I really do not know what the fuck I am talking about.

Uniform purchase

At some point between July and September, the purchase of uniform will take place. All hail the cut-price supermarket clothes, is all I can say. The local uniform shop where we are obliged to buy the branded items is a sphincter-clenchingly irritating dichotomy of being last decorated in 1973 whilst its young customer assistants are bang up to date with their studied aloofness and inability to spot a customer in need from five paces.

Two years ago, I left the purchase of non-branded items to the middle of the summer holiday. Oh, how I didn’t laugh when I sailed up the Asda escalator to be confronted by a scene from the Apocalypse, only involving slightly more easy-iron shirts in inappropriate sizes. The only thing left hanging on the uniform rails was my will to live. An odd pair of grey shorts lay forlorn on the floor, four sizes too large, whilst half a pack of socks swung at an odd angle from a hanger that once gripped a navy skirt. I managed to find an assistant to enquire if they were expecting more in, and she gave me a smile of such pity that a little part of me died inside. So now, as soon as I see the summer holiday looming, it’s a family trip to the supermarket for us, then I don’t feed them for six weeks to stunt their growth and it’s job done.

I’ll name that jumper in one (Sharpie pen)

Labelling your child’s uniform. Simple, right? Wrong. There is a hierarchy of labelling methods that correlates precisely to how shit you are as a parent.

At the top of the parenting tree smugly sways the sewn-in labels. Oh, look at me, with my groovy coloured font and my neat little stitches. There are mums (and I wish not to be sexist, but I have never yet met a dad who would dream of entertaining such ludicrousy) who spend days before school starts hunched over a mountain of uniform, meticulously sewing a label into each shirt, skirt and sock, every stitch a pledge of love and devotion for their beautiful, well turned-out offspring.

Below this on the tree there are the iron-in name badges. You can still show off with a funky font and a range of colours, but this practical naming solution means you never have to try to thread the end of a piece of cotton into an opening smaller than an ant’s arsehole, or jab a needle under your thumb nail, a pain so hideous it makes you spontaneously invent a new swear word as the ones currently at your disposal are just not up to the job. But let’s not forget, this is not a solution for the lazy. After all, it means that you have to iron your child’s uniform at least once.

And then, at the bottom of the tree, slouched with legs open and a fag on the go, is the Sharpie pen. The naming implement of parents too lazy to get the ironing board out, or too those too unprepared to have ordered iron-in name labels two weeks previously.  Unless your child’s name is Ed Law or Sue Po, however, there may well be a space issue, so you end up writing tiny letters with a fat-nibbed writing implement that look fine and dandy for the first 12 micro-seconds, then as the ink bleeds across the label, you realise you have just basically redacted the washing instructions. On the upside, however, it is one of the few naming solutions that can be executed with child in situ. Child’s arms aloft, you can pull the shirt label toward a nearby table and Sharpie it to your heart’s content, or turn the waistband of trousers inside out and quickly scribble the name in the three seconds your child will stand still for. You can’t do that with a bloody iron. No really, don’t.

Just to clarify, I have never, ever, used a Sharpie pen to label my child’s uniform. *kicks two Sharpie pens under sofa and walks away nonchalantly, whistling*

fuck_sewing_sharpie

Years

The way the years are titled at primary school is a complete mystery. I know I was educated in an era when throwing a blackboard rubber at a pupil was an acceptable way of a teacher commanding attention, and in fact, in an era when there was actually such as thing as a blackboard rubber, but really, it didn’t used to be this complicated.

Now, the first year at primary is not called Year 1. Good God no. I mean, that would be ridiculous. In our school this first year is called Reception. Unless you write it down, when it becomes YrF. Which I think stands for Foundation. But could possibly stand for Fuckwit.

I could sort of understand this approach a few years ago, when reception was a gentle introduction to learning, the metaphorical atrium where children gathered to slowly acclimatise to this new phase of their life and where the curriculum consisted largely of colouring in and singing songs. However, with the introduction of the new curriculum in 2014 this is no longer the case. So concerned was the Department for Education that we were rearing a nation of dullards that the new curriculum dictates that by the spring term of reception the kids are expected to be calculating simultaneous equations and spotting subordinate clauses at around the same time as they master a knife and fork. Give or take.

So kids have to have been in school a whole year before they are in Year 1, at which point it finally becomes a lot simpler, and you count the years up to 6. Although don’t forget, when they get to year 3 they stop being Key Stage 1 and commence Key Stage 2. Which in old money, converts back to infants and primary. Although taking into account deflation, the increased value of sterling and the accelerated curriculum, probably actually equates to senior school and university.

So. We’re all clear on that then, yes?

The Teacher’s home visit

The home visit from your child’s teacher is one of the most high-pressure, high-stakes situations you will endure. You will spend the preceding three hours wiping every bogey from the kitchen chairs, picking up those tiny bits of Lego that you have pretended not to notice in the corner of the room for the previous five weeks and checking the cleaned toilet for fresh skid marks at least once every ten minutes. You will agonise over refreshment choice and ponder snack options. Biscuits: too sugary? Fruit: too messy? Homemade gingerbread men: too full of a 4-year old’s bogeys and bacteria?

You will sit in one room with the teacher, answering benign questions about your child, what they like and dislike, what nursery they have been to, and so on, whilst in the other room the teaching assistant gets down to the real interrogation with your child. You silently pray to the God of Keeping your Trap Shut that he doesn’t say anything too incriminating, doesn’t mention the time that you nearly shut his head in the car boot, and doesn’t repeat a heinous swear word that he may or may not have heard you say when you stubbed your toe on a bloody scooter that had been discarded in the middle of the kitchen floor.

As they leave they give you a smile that possibly means ‘your child is a retard and a horror’ and you smile back, a rictus grin that definitely means ‘I need a large glass of wine now’.

 wie_gingerbreadman

What they did that day

Get used to knowing nothing about what happens to your child every day. Along with sticking their laminated name by their peg and learning where to put their book bag on their first day at school, every reception child swears a ninja vow of silence. Henceforth, conversations about what they have been doing that day will run somewhere along these lines:

“So, what was your best part of today?”

“Lunch.”

“What did you have?”

“Can’t remember.”

“So apart from lunch, what else did you do that you enjoyed?”

“Playtime.”

“Lovely. Did you do anything in the classroom that was good?”

“Yes.”

“Ooh, what was that then?”

“We played.”

“That sounds good. What did you play?”
“Can’t remember.”

“Who did you play with?”

“My friends.”

“How nice. Which friends?”

“Can’t remember.”

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 2 will be published next week. I know. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff.

 


Mumzilla

A Mexican Wave in an Old People’s Home

 

WARNING_untrained_percussionists

I must have done something either really terrible in my last life, or lived a life so full of adventure and adrenalin, someone is trying to recalibrate the cosmic scales: either way, it is class assembly time. Now don’t get me wrong, I love getting involved in my son’s school life. Every day when we arrive home from school pick up, I enjoy nothing more than holding his Hudl to ransom whilst I clinch him in a sturdy headlock in return for a morsel of information about what he did that day. But attending the class assemblies? It’s parental engagement gone mad, I tell you.

You know you’re in trouble when the class troop into the hall holding a variety of small percussion instruments. Ooh good, I think, tambourines. Because there is nothing quite like the smash of a chubby fist against a surface scarred with the fingernails of the previous hundred reluctant musicians to put joy in your heart and a sweet aural caress on your ear drums.

The first child stands up. An expectant hush falls over the audience as the child starts to speak. We all collectively lean forward. His lips are moving, but does he realise there is no sound being emitted? Oh wait, I think there is, but it would take ears better trained than mine to hear what is being said and if I lean forward any further I am in danger of taking out at least three Year 1 pupils sitting on the floor in front of me. I squint a bit in the vain hope that I have learned to lip read since I woke up, but no, it is not to be.

Many, many, many more minutes pass in a similar vein. I watch the children, some mumbling inaudibly, others loud enough but with a lack of intonation that would make Stephen Hawking blush. Faces are partially obscured by pieces of paper on which their line is typed in a large, over-optimistic font, and I wonder why they don’t just hold these up instead. It transpires that they are explaining what they have been working on this term. The narrative is told not-quite chronologically, as due to some administrative queueing fuck up as they left the classroom, it seems that they put on a display of flying machines that they had made, and then they made them.

They show us the masterpieces that they have been working on in the precious minutes squeezed between lunch, discussions of who will play Kilo Ren at play time, nose picking and SATs practice. I believe what is meant to happen is a simultaneous raising of the pieces of work. What actually happens is more like a Mexican wave in an old people’s home. Gradually, each child  slowly raises their poster, eventually prompting the child standing next to them who was up until that point busy staring at her shoes, to raise hers, and so it goes on down the line.  Slowly. Eventually, every child holds up their prized poster, kitchen roll tube aeroplane or a small paper construction that closely resembles the pile of screwed-up recycling on my kitchen surface. Several eyes are poked out with the sharp end of a Spitfire’s cardboard wing, an eardrum is compromised by an oversized lolly stick propeller and several cheeks sustain papercuts. That bit is quite entertaining, to be fair.


plane_looroll

My attention is drawn back to the room after an indeterminate period of time where I may or may not have been staring at the hall clock, just in time to see my son deliver his allotted line, facing strangely sideways for some reason, contorted downwards so he can see his script which he seems to have left on the floor and with both hands wedged firmly in his pockets. It is a distinctly underwhelming moment. Sorry, did I say underwhelming? I meant life-affirming. Yes, that was it.

We then segue neatly (by which I mean 30 children all stare at each other with growing panic as no one is saying anything) into the Maths demonstration. One child plods slowly down the line of class mates, thumps up the stage steps and across the stage to the waiting flip chart. He reads aloud the Maths problem written on the sheet, addressing mainly the flip chart, and with way too much care and attention, underlines the important information. This is a boy who has been drilled in the responsibility bestowed by a Marker Pen. He slowly retraces his steps and finally arrives back at his original place, solemnly handing over the flip chart marker to the girl next to him. She sets off down the line at a similarly regal pace, leisurely walks up the steps and heads to the flip chart. By now, I am inadvertently clenching my fists. She re-reads the problem. Slowly. Eventually, she raises the marker to the page and with much deliberation, writes the sum down that needs to be solved. Please don’t read it out, I silently beg. She reads it out. Finally, she turns and makes the long, slow trek back across the stage and returns to her place. She offers the baton to her neighbour and there is a brief fumble. The audience hold their breath, but after an ungainly recovery, the next boy funeral marches toward the stage.  Three days later when he reaches the flip chart, for reasons known only to him (and that’s being kind) he rewrites the sum below the original sum that has just been written. The same sum. Again. Slowly. At which point half the audience are silently screaming: THE ANSWER IS 42. JUST WRITE THE SODDING ANSWER, WILL YOU?

When he finally hands over the marker to the brightest boy in the class, we know we are reaching the nail-biting finale, as he is the only one who would be entrusted to deliver the denouement without fear of him writing the wrong answer, saying something untoward or suddenly eating the marker pen. He writes the number 42 on the flip. We all clap, out of total and utter relief.

marker_pen

Once they are all back into a semblance of a line, another child mumbles something, which appears to be the cue for them to all pick up their instruments. I brace myself. From the old speakers in the corners of the hall crackles Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. Thirty kids, twenty-eight of whom look like they’ve just been told they’ll never see their iPads again, less burst, more slide reluctantly into song. At the chorus, (mis)guided by the wild gesticulations from the teacher who is standing at the back, arms flailing as if she is having some kind of seizure, the children start banging, scraping, tinging and rattling their instruments. The noise they produce bears more than a passing resemblance to a 30-piece dinner service, complete with cutlery, glasses and stainless steel tureens, being tipped off a dining table. Every three seconds. Christ, I never realised that that song went on for quite so bloody long. It was alright for Bob Marley, he was off his tits on top-quality weed. I have to endure this stone-cold sober.

Enthusiasm from the performers begins to wane dramatically after the first chorus, but not so much as that of the audience. Lyrics had obviously been forgotten on the long walk from classroom to hall, so along with mis-timed banging we were treated to mis-singing as well, whilst one boy with a drum had decided the best way to play the aforementioned instrument was to hold it stationary in his left hand and move his entire body to meet it at every beat. That boy is going to have a core of steel by the time this song is bloody finished. One girl standing half way down the line is now close to tears, her bottom lip trembling (also not in time with the music). Perhaps the dawning realisation of the utter chasm there exists between the words she is barely singing (don’t worry, be happy) and the current godforsaken predicament she finds herself in, is finally sinking in.

And eventually, when I thought I may have to leave the room for fear of developing a permanent nervous tic, it stops. Well, ‘stops’ may not be the right word, as it makes it sound like there was a definitive, certain cessation of noise which is not wholly accurate. A proportion of the children stop hammering the shit out of their instrument, whilst the remainder carry on for some time, either due to lack of attention or sheer bloody-mindedness, until only one girl remains defiantly tinging her triangle.

And so another class assembly draws to a close. There is a collective sigh of relief from parents, mainly due to the fact that it is finally over, but also in no small part as no one’s child has vomited, shat their pants or shouted something inappropriate. Which on reflection, is a pity, really.

triangle


A tsunami of toys and discarded drinks cartons

They say that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. I don’t know who these fabled ‘they’ are. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are a group of renegade fairies, chucked out of Fairy Forest for repeated dope smoking and flashing their tits at the hedgehogs, who now spend their days hanging out in the air vents of fast food outlets, making up crap adages that dissolve like fairy wings over a naked flame as soon as they are held up to even the most fleeting scrutiny.

Anyway, probably enough fairy chat (now there’s a phrase surely deserving of a wide audience). I used to think I could choose my friends. And then I had children. And, it turns out, they get to choose them for you. Because no matter how much you really like Mum A, because she is funny, and down to earth, and doesn’t seem to notice that you have turned up in the playground with the same top on all week, your child does not want to play with her child. No, your child wants to play with the child of Mum B, who seems to have a team of stylists coiffe her to perfection every bloody morning and whose child would not be seen dead with a dried snail’s trail of snot on their coat arm. Unlike mine.

And nowhere does this become more apparent than on play dates. As my son is in reception year, we are getting right into the swing of play dates. And there is a lot to be said for a play date. Let’s make a list, shall we?

1. It is a great way to fill that yawning chasm of time between the end of the school day (which, let’s face it, is pretty much a half day anyway) and bed time. Or to put it another way, it lets me off the entertainment hook.

2. It is a grand old excuse for sitting on your arse with a generous supply of tea and nattering, an activity which otherwise is far too indulgent given how much work I have to do and the size of my washing mountain which is directly inversely proportionate to how full the food cupboards are.

3. Occasionally, you get to meet another mum who is also prepared to admit that they can be a little bit crap when it comes to parenting and it is a pleasure to be in their company and to be honest about being a mum. “…and then, we turned round, and he had fallen in the sea…oh, how we laughed…” (Yes, this did happen, but no, it wasn’t that amusing at the time. However, we laugh about it now, mainly to keep the panic that still gnaws at our insides at bay).

4. I will admit, I do love a good nose round other people’s houses. I mainly marvel at how tidy they are, to be fair.

5. Oh, and I suppose there should be something here about how nice it is for my son to play with his friends, blah blah blah. Blimey, anyone would think play dates were for his benefit.

But there is a dark side to a play date. It’s not all bloody harmonious laughter wafting down the stairs as you sip your delicious tea.

1. The unaccompanied play date. Now, in theory, packing your kids off to someone else’s house without you is genius. However, I do feel, given that my son is only five, that I would probably want to go with him for the first one. A mum asked my son round for play date once, and her chin nearly hit the hop scotch when I asked to come with him. How do I know she doesn’t have a rabid Rottweiler who likes nothing more than to chew on strangers’ legs? How can I be sure there is not a pentagram chalked on the kitchen floor and a faint smell of goat’s blood lingering in the hallway? I don’t think I am overprotective as a parent (cf. Point 3 above, my son’s unscheduled dip into the sea) but perhaps I am.

2. The Play Date Ninja Mum, who prepares a number of activities in advance of you and your child turning up – you know, she has actually given some thought to what the kids might want to do. And then serves up a nutritious, homemade meal. And not bloody fish fingers and waffles. Note to self: up your bloody game on the food front, you lazy bitch. You are letting yourself down. Well, and your son. And his friend. And his friend’s mum. In fact, you’re letting pretty much everyone down with you ‘meal on a grill pan’ approach to life. You disgust me.

3. But despite my self-confessed crapitude on the meal front, things can get a little tricky when there is a clash of snack cultures. We rocked up on a play date where my son was given a chocolate bar, followed by the offer of a whole plate of biscuits for himself. Not just one. A whole plate. Call me a snack snob, and each to their own, ya-dee-ya, but I am just not convinced about consuming half the biscuit aisle an hour before tea. Luckily, he said no the biscuits, so I loved him a little bit more after that.

4. When play dates turn sour. Sometimes, after a long day at school building misshapen space ships from Lego and painting your shirt cuffs and shoes, the kids are a little tired and irritable. So rather than spending an hour playing nicely with your friend, it turns into the Shitbag Olympics where both children try very hard to win a gold medal in Stropping, Shouting or Pretend Crying that is all Noise and No Tears. This is a lose-lose scenario for all concerned. If you are round someone else’s house, you feel your kid, as the guest, should behave. If you are at home, you feel your kid, as the host, should behave. Either way, I am shit out of luck.

5. Play dates at your house are just a little bit rubbish, because you run around in a flat panic trying to tidy up a week’s worth of mess in ten minutes, shoving things in cupboards that have no right to be there whilst scrubbing a dubious stain off the table with a wet wipe, just so the visiting mum doesn’t volunteer you for the next series of a Life of Grime. Then after the play date, you wade through a tsunami of toys and discarded drinks cartons and wonder why you ever sodding bothered.

 

So, if you have made it to the bottom of this blog post, well done you. And if you have raised a smile, a laugh or just an eyebrow, then perhaps you would consider voting for this blog in the Brilliance in Blogging awards? All you have to do is click on the purple and yellow badge to the right of this page and you will be magically transported through space, time and the internet to the relevant page, where angelic eunuchs will serenade you whilst you vote. Perhaps.


My son, the tight-lipped, secretive, spy operative

There are a huge amount of new experiences and much to get used to, when you start school. For E, now six weeks into his first term, one of the first things that it appears has caused him a pause for thought is the general incessantness of it. Not that he has told me this outright. Oh no. He is a five year old boy. So I have to glean information from him like an informational archaeologist, painstakingly brushing away layers, looking for clues, gently prodding to see what happens, stroking my beard as I ruminate on what could lie beneath. Okay, maybe not the beard. Not for another few years, at least.

On the second Friday he attended school, I was getting him dressed in his uniform. “Am I going to school again, mummy?” he asked, eyebrows raised with the incredulity of such a ridiculous notion.

“Yes, you are,” I reply with a smile. A smile that means: please don’t make this a Big Thing.

“I don’t want to go,” he states emphatically.

Of course, he did go. Granted, dragging him the whole way there by the wrist was not the most relaxed walk to school we had ever had, but he did go.

Last Sunday, he asked: “Mummy, why are weekends only two days?”  A question that echoes throughout every household, from every school child, parent and worker, uttered with an air of resignation as the last day of the weekend draws to a close and Monday morning starts to loom like a lumbering giant with a cattle prod and an alarm clock.

So, it appears he finds the routine of school a little challenging. I am interested in finding out what he does all day at school, given that I am his mother with at least a passing interest in his educational development.

“What did you do today then?” I ask on the walk home.

“We had lunch.”

“Lovely. What else?”

“We had a snack.”

Well, I can be confident that at least his stomach has settled in well at school.

“What else did you do? Painting? Stories?”

“I don’t remember.” This, from the boy who remembers the most inconsequential of details from something that happened two years ago (“You remember mummy, we met that man in the funny hat in that shop with chairs in.” Errr. No. I barely remember my own name some days, so a man with dodgy head wear could well have passed me by.)

It is obvious I need another tack to elicit information from my son. Maybe take a more peer-led approach.

“Who did you play with today?”

“A boy.” Good god, he would make a hell of an MI6 operative. He’s not even breaking sweat under my ferocious interrogation. Who knew I had inadvertently enrolled him in bloody spy school?

“And what was his name?”

“Don’t know.” Okay, I surrender. For now.

And then, at some unspecified moment after the event, anywhere between an hour and three days, E will let slip some details about his school day.

“We made a spider from an egg box and the legs were pipe cleaners, mummy,” he announces in the middle of lunch. I nearly fall off my chair, overwhelmed by the tsunami of information that has just poured from him.

“That sounds cool,” I enthuse. “Why were you making spiders?”

“Don’t know.” Bang. The sound of the sharing door slamming shut in my face.

So whilst E gets used to being at school, I get used to knowing pretty much nothing about school. At nursery, I would get a full debrief from the staff, including the number of toilet trips he made, what he ate for lunch, and what activities he filled his day with. At school, they file out of the classroom at the end of the day having sworn a vow of silence, the teacher giving each parent a brief, knowing smile. A knowing smile that says: we know. We know everything. You, however, know nothing.

Whenever E does let slip what he has been up to at school, I am invariably in the middle of driving, or changing B’s nappy, or doing something that means I can’t really pay attention. A few weeks ago, I nearly drove into the verge as I tried to keep one eye on the road whilst the other watched E act out his jolly phonics songs, which I had no idea even existed until that moment.

I also suspect that school is training him in the art of mis-information. E tells me one afternoon that he had apple and carrot as a snack. Apple and carrot? Is that not a match made in culinary hell, only rivalled by banana and beetroot? I ask him if it really was apple and carrot. “Really,” he says, nodding enthusiastically. I chalk that one up in the ‘possibly a whopping fib’ column.

Yesterday, I ask him what he had for pudding (I soon realised that as it seemed he was only allowed to talk about what he ate at school, I may as well glean as much as I can about his menu choices). Yoghurt and fruit, he tell me. I ask him what the other choice was. “That yellow thing… you know, that makes your face go funny.”

“Lemon?”

“Yes, lemon.”

“There were slices of lemon for pudding?”

“Yes.”

I chalk this one up in the ‘utter bollocks’ column.

So as the weeks trundle on, and E gets used to being at school for what must seem like the rest of his lifetime, I have to get used to knowing nothing about what he is doing. But there is one glimmer of hope. If school is training my son to be a tight-lipped, secretive spy operative, capable of withholding information under maternal pressure, then all I need to do is launch a clandestine operation and single out one of his friends who will willingly turn informant. There are two packs of Smarties and an unmarked sheet of Spiderman stickers waiting for them.


A scattering of wobbly bottom lips

So this was the week that my son started primary school. I mention this in conversation to people, and they all have a strangely similar reaction: a hand on my arm, head on one side, an “ahhhh” to accompany it. I was a little perturbed by this at first. Had I mistakenly told them that I had run over a kitten? That my faithful dog Fido had died swallowing a hedgehog? Nah. Because everyone thinks that starting school is a Big Thing.

Well, it probably was a Big Thing. But that was before the school ran several settling in sessions, and E’s new teachers visited his nursery, and the nursery took the kids on the walk to school, and we talked about starting school, and then he saw my ham-fisted attempts at taking up numerous pairs of grey trousers. So by the first day of school, it became utterly not a Big Thing. Well, not for most of the kids, anyway. And certainly not for me. In fact, I was so not bothered, I begin to wonder if I really qualified as a bone fide mother at all. I mean, sure, it was nice to see him in his uniform. But it was just a slightly-too-large-because-I-want to-get-my-money’s-worth white shirt and a pair of grey shorts, with clumpy unattractive black shoes to complete the ensemble. I prefer his Dangermouse tee shirt, to be honest. He looks a little less nerdy in it.

There were a scattering of wobbly bottom lips and teary eyes from the mums in the playground, but I was more concerned about hot-footing it home to try and squeeze the day’s work into the next two and a bit hours, before I had to pick him up again. It’s less like a school day, more like a quick visit for a leisurely snack with just enough time to daub a few splodges of paint onto a bit of paper.

As the kids eventually filed into the classroom, I gave E a wave and a smile. Am I supposed to not feel this bothered?

“Oh,” said a mum who stood next to me. “It’s awful.”

“I know. By the time I get home, it’ll be time to come back again.”

“No, I mean, my little one starting school. It’s like my heart has been ripped out.”

Oh yes, now I get it. The heart ripped out thing. That. I guess that’s what I should be feeling. Hmmm. Bollocks to that. I’ll put it on my to-do list just below my VAT return, tidying me desk and picking the fluff out of my keyboard. I’m sure I’ll get round to it eventually.