Well, we’re a term in and the Big Small Person has settled admirably at Infant School. But she’s not the only one getting an education – the start of school is something of steep learning curve for parents too. Especially this one. So I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned in my child’s first term…
- The book bag is an official channel of official communication
I mean, who knew?? It comes somewhere on the Official List of Communications between Letters, Email, and Carrier Pigeon. No b*****d has ever shared this list with me.
The book bag must be checked everyday for important paper messages hidden amongst the other random crap your child decides to bring home (see no 6). It is never, ever used for books. Fool. Apparently this is something other people just know ‘naturally’, but it took me a good month to catch on because I am completely clueless.
- It’s more expensive than it looks
Were you looking forward to a financial break when your first born hit full time mainstream education? LOL! Sweet. Now not only do you have to figure out the before school/after school/childminder/friend-swapping/play-dating/school club/holiday care drop-off and pick-up MADNESS, you have to pay through the nose for them, too.
And you will also spend a small fortune in loose change for non-uniform days, bake sales, harvest festival donations, school trips, and other random bobbins. All of which must be supplied direct to the office in envelopes you don’t own and can never remember to purchase. No, you cannot just write an upfront cheque at the beginning of term. Nor is there a Direct Debit option. I asked.
If you are the owner of a baby, take my advice – stock up on your stationary, and start saving your small change now.
- You won’t have a scooby do what they do all day
Yep, this old chestnut. But it really is a violent contrast after nursery, where you get to shoot the breeze with the staff about your darling little one at some length – and even get a written daily report of their consumption, bowel movements, play pals and activities.
At school you get 15 mins facetime with the teacher each term. It’s weird.
You will also get nothing out of your child. Literally – “nothing”. Or “nobody”. Or “Mummeeee, stop asking me all of these stupid questions! I don’t want to talk about this now!” (Uh huh, the attitude turns up a good notch, too).
I’ve even tried all the inventive questions you’re supposed to ask, about what their teacher said to them today, what made them laugh, what was so-and-so doing at lunchtime etc etc.
Occasionally bits will slip out accidentally as they are trying to keep you talking at bedtime, or when playing schools with teddy bears. But that’s your lot.
This is a well documented phenomenon, but suddenly being completely blind to 35+ hours of your kid’s life is pretty damn discomforting. The only thing more discomforting is actually getting more face-time with the teacher, because it means your kid has been a little turd. The long journey from the collection point into the classroom when you are called in after school is your new Walk of Shame. The old one was waaaaay more fun.
- The school gate is a whole nother level of social anxiety! Yay!
Dadonthenetheredge, my greatest supporter/detractor, has a word to describe my behaviour in social situations, especially new ones. That word is ‘intense’.
The school gate is not a good place for ‘intense’.
Having run the gauntlet of Mummyland groups, and nursery, (plus, you know, school, university and work) you might think I would have developed intensity-dampening strategies, or at least the ability not to care. Neither of these have yet occurred. Instead I simply continue to be just slightly inappropriate, incomprehensible or, at best, inconsistent, and then obsess about each interaction after the fact.
But this isn’t your own, personal, run-of-the-mill social anxiety. Oh no no. Because this is school. This is the beginning of your child’s real social life. The impressions and connections they make here will colour and shape their lives as they move with their peers through the education system over the next 14 years. So now you get to have social anxiety on behalf of your CHILD, which is a billion times worse. Why weren’t they invited back for a play date? Why didn’t they get that party invite? Why didn’t so and so want to sit with them at lunch? What did they do? What did YOU do?
You obviously want your child to make friends at school, and that means EXTRA pressure to ingratiate yourself with parents – or at least make the effort to appear normal – lest your own personality foibles impair your child’s social success.
My intensity does NOT do well under pressure.
To counteract this, I have taken to putting on real clothes (as opposed to maternity yoga pants) and actual make-up for pick-up time, so I appear to outsiders to be a functioning member of society. I also chant my ‘Do not be intense and weird’ mantra under my breath, plant a maniacal fixed smile on my face and try not to look too dead behind the eyes.
I’m pretty sure it’s working a treat.
- The administration is EPIC
Oh God. The admin.
It started with a school letter before school even started, littered with so many dates, rules, meetings and events I literally couldn’t make head, tail or any other random anatomical sense of what was going on – and subsequently missed half of them.
This is why I know F-all about PTA activities or phonics. Probably.
This initial and epic four A4 sides of dense communications was followed by an actual list of dates, not, it turns out, exhaustive. (I missed Children In Need non-uniform day for instance – exactly the kind of shite which tortured and haunted my own childhood. Insert flashback).
Let me make it clear that I am a grown woman literally afraid of her own post, and who considers his willingness to act as my personal secretary Dadonthenethwrdege’s most attractive quality. In fact I count post as one of my natural foes, alongside spiders, Baileys (although I didn’t know this until I was 16 or so), PE, and deadlines. ***Shiver***.
So having to deal with the sheer breadth and girth of correspondence on behalf of the Big Small Person has been… somewhat challenging. I mean I’m barely keeping my own sh*t together, here.
You are not, by the way, allowed to SHARE the administrative burden. Schools will accept only one contact per child. This has annoyed and alarmed Dadonthenethwredge, who – for some reason – mistrusts my organisational capabilities. Which in turn makes me unjustifiably indignant. (Not enough to actually organise myself, though, needless to say.)
And it is not just the paperwork via book bag, for schools have now gone 21st century on us, and have a dastardly system of texts, websites and apps they can also bombard you with. I once received 6 text messages in one day. And there are 3 billion websites to sign up for and remember passwords for. The general school website. The payment app. The event booking app. The homework site. The specialist maths site. The class page. The phonics site. Oh, and then the FB parents and class pages. And the emails. From school, after school club, and activity clubs.
I was going to expand on this list for comedic effect but I’m too busy hyperventilating having typed it out.
Only today, on visit to the school office with various tardy permission slips and envelopes of money, the nice Office Lady tapped me consolingly on the shoulder, reminded me of another form I had forgotten, and told me she’d put an extra copy in my book bag because she knew I wouldn’t read the email.
We’re not even at the end of the first term in a pretty big school and this woman knows me by name, knows my child by name, and knows about my post allergy and gaping administrative blind spot. I spend considerably more time with her than with my child’s actual teacher.
Far from being embarrassed, I’m actually hoping that by Year 1 I can take her in correspondence from home about banking, insurance, mortgages and all the other crap that melts my tiny brain, and she might help me sort the rest of my life out too.
- Your child was NOT a prolific artist at nursery.
Although I have seen some evidence of actual learning, as far as I can make out, (which isn’t far, see no 3) the Big Small Person spends most of her time at school scribbling on, cutting out, then sticking, stapling or paper-fastening bits of paper together (I had no idea paper-fasteners were still a thing), and finally bringing them home and insisting they be preserved for posterity.
There is no way posterity can cope with this volume of ‘creativity’. Certainly I can’t.
The Big Small person hadn’t reached 2 before I had learned to coo adoringly over every pointy splodge that came home from nursery and then surreptitiously discard them in the recycling (well buried – to do otherwise is a rookie mistake new parents only ever make once).
I’m not a monster – I keep seminal pieces in a memory box under the spare bed, but if I did not cull we would literally be living around stacks of child-art like those people you see in Channel 5 hoarding documentaries.
I actually think disposing of these items behind her back is a kindness, and I’ll explain why. My own parents recently cleared out their loft, and in a visit to Sheffield bought with them boxes of pictures by me, proudly adorned with my name and age, and returned them to my keeping.
There is nothing that expresses rejection quite as eloquently as giving back painstakingly crafted, personalised gifts you no longer have any use for. THIS IS NOT OKAY PARENTS. I actually think they may be trying to break up with me.
Either that or they’re getting old and don’t give a fuck about other people’s feelings anymore. I can’t wait for this stage of life – see no 4.
- I am a rubbish, rubbish, teacher
Speaking of my parents, I remember the horror of being taught to drive by my Dad, who would insist that my inability to consistently reverse around a corner was wilful incompetence, rather than chronic special unawareness and general ineptitude. I swore then I would be a model of patience and tranquility when guiding my own children.
Turns out, not entirely unexpectedly, I was a) wrong, and b) a bit of a knobhead. This seems to have happened quite a bit as my pre-child preconceptions have been replaced by cold, hard, post-child realities.
Perhaps it’s the sleep deprivation, possibly it’s genetics, conceivably it may be the Big Small Person’s natural instincts to press each and every one of my freaking, c*ck-wombling buttons.
Whatever it is, I find I simply cannot keep my temper when the little sh*t claims it can’t read the word ‘cat’ by the end of a book about cats, heavily illustrated with cats, where we have painfully sounded out and read the word ‘cat’ at least 10 f***ing times per f***ing page.
If you are reading this and you are a teacher, I take my hat off to you. It is not my forte, and I am far more like my Father than I had realised.
Could be the beard.
- It’s quiet
I sort of knew this one was coming, which is why I overfilled my first few weeks with activities to stave off my new reality.
And then one day it was just me and the Small Small Person, and I didn’t know what to say to her.
Because for so long I’ve had the Big Small Person filling every available conversational space (and most unavailable ones) with speech, squeaking, squawking, or screaming. Sometimes ALL AT THE SAME TIME. (She may not be able to read, but by God, the kid can communicate).
In many ways I’ve enjoyed the one-on-one time with the Small2, who has been basically dragged round after her sister for her entire life, but she’s still not much of a conversationalist. I’ve had to relearn the art of the parental monologue, which never came particularly easily to me in the first place. (For the uninitiated, this is where you basically talk to yourself all day to encourage your offspring’s oral development, receiving nothing, indecipherable nonsense, random tantrums or the occasional repetition from your partner in ‘dialogue’).
Since the Big Small learned to talk I had clearly forgotten this horror, and have often wished for blessed silence, and even for the opportunity to actually monologue again (or frankly to say anything that might be heard and heeded). Be careful what you wish for. Because now I realise I miss the noise terribly.
- The days are short
Luckily it turns out that 9am to 3.30pm isn’t actually very long. Certainly I can’t seem to achieve anything terribly worthwhile once I’ve fitted in Small Person meals, snacks and naps. If we’re lucky we’ll get to the shops, park or a playgroup, but that’s about it. I’m still getting used to having my days curtailed and restricted in this way, but I’ve not yet forgotten to pick the Big Small up – I’m told this will happen eventually.
Fortunately the nice Office Lady already has me on speed dial, so I will be able to dash madly across Sheffield, apologise profusely to the child, ply it with guilt-chocolate when we get home, and tearily and dutifully check the book bag for correspondence (like a proper parent). #secondtermgoals.