There is a new mother at the school gates. Watching her surrounded by a pack of eager mums desperate to get to know her, it puts me in mind of a scene from a natural history documentary I edited of a frenzy of feeding vultures. Standing there in the invisibility cloak I’d borrowed from Harry Potter, I can only feel glad it’s not me.
The trouble is that here in Stepford when your child starts school, you do too. On a daily basis you will have to contend with paranoia, bullying, self-doubt, competition about reading levels and general criticism, and that is just from the other mums. By the time it gets to 9 o’clock in the morning you will be crippled with insecurity about whether or not: you’ve made the right decision in working part-time; you are reading enough with your child; you should have worn the black boots that make you look like a stripper.
A few years ago, when my son started school I found the whole thing quite intimidating, particularly the other parents. Being thrown into a social situation at 8.40 in the morning before I’d had the chance to properly wake up was quite harrowing and I found the adjustment to school harder than he did. The freedom of nursery had suited us both. If he was too tired or we fancied doing something else, he would have a day off. However, it seems the school don’t seem to like you doing this, they would like him to be there every day. If he misses a day at the age of 4 he will lose out on learning a phonic and therefore have to get through the rest of his life without the letter ‘d’.
This lax attitude of mine is not shared by most of the other parents with children in my sons year. In our first (terrifying) meeting before he started at the school, several of the other parents wanted to know about reading levels and SATs. I sat there trying not to laugh at a friends scribble on her notebook (of a sausage dog, if you want to know) and wondering when the teachers were going to discover that I wasn’t grown up enough for this situation.
Not long after that, when he started in foundation, we were bombarded with information about phonics, reading books and the many bewildering array of after school clubs he could join. Available for our little darlings to dip their toes into extracurricularly were: wet felt club, chess club, yoga, pottery, French and horse riding. There is also breakfast club that offers Kung Fu at 7 in the morning. My son could barely cope with the school day he was so tired, let alone manage an after or before school activity once or twice a week.
Now he is in his third year at school he has decided to try out one of these clubs. He didn’t fancy hand bells or African drumming so he’s doing plain old football instead. Obviously I did worry about how that would look on his university application form, but at age 6 he’s got plenty of time to broaden his horizons.
By the way, if anyone can shed any light on what wet felting actually is then feel free to enlighten me in the comments box, thanks
Some stereotype school–mums for you (yes they do exist, I have experienced all of them):
The Running Mum : Dressed head to camel-toe in lycra, she is impossible to pin down because she appears as a blur, streaking up and down the year 2 playground line-up. As soon as the bell goes, she’s off like an olympic sprinter who’s just heard the starting pistol.
Chair-Mum: She is vice chair of any association she can get her claws into. She is a permanently bothering the other parents for cupcakes for the weekly ‘cake days’ . She used to be an HR manager and now she thinks she manages Key Stage 1. The teachers hide when they see her coming.
‘Oh god, is that the time?‘ Mum: However early she gets up in the morning she never manages to get to school on time. Arriving at the school gate just as everyone else is leaving, she drops a string of her children’s possessions (and sometimes one or two of her children) behind her as she legs it to the cloakroom just as the doors are closing.
Networking Mum: works the school gate like she’s working the floor at a networking event. She ignores her children who are desperate for mum’s attention, and uses the opportunity to meet as many people as possible and get some dinner party dates in the diary. She fears that social failure by her kids will reflect badly on herself.
Passive aggressive mum:. She’ll accost you at your weakest moment, usually as your school-refusing child is having a meltdown, to say loudly, ‘And how is Benjamin doing? You are not still taking him in every day are you? Benji’s never going to be independent if mummy holds his hand every morning is he?’
Coffee Morning Mum: Always looking for someone she can grab a coffee with. She is always either at the school gate or at a cafe. She arrives early to school drop off in order to organise as many coffees as she can. On Tuesday last week she’d stayed so long the bell rang that I saw her trying to surreptitiously climb over the locked school gate to get out.