Image: author's own
If any of you budding entrepreneurs out there need a solid-gold business idea, let me give you one. Open up a shop in Liverpool Street station that caters to the stressed out school-run parent. It could sell fancy dress costumes, plain t-shirts in every colour of the rainbow and navy school socks. I would be there and spending money with you every week, I promise. There's always something school-related that I'm trying to purchase in my 15 minutes between missing the optimal train and catching the train I always end up catching, that gets me in just in time to pick the kids up.
Take today. Today, I needed coloured hair spray because it's Crazy Hair Day tomorrow. You may not know where to buy coloured hair spray in the Square Mile but here's a hot tip - don't use Bing to try and find out. For some reason it's the default search engine at work and it chirpily told me that there was a branch of Claire's Accessories in Liverpool Street Station when I was pretty sure there wasn't. Luckily, the search engine that's most people's defaults told me that no, this branch wasn't there any more. Give up on that idea and look elsewhere.
Then, a tip on a local parents' group. Superdrug had coloured hair spray and it was half price! I frantically hit Google again to find out where the nearest one was, jumped off the bus I was on and headed in the exact opposite direction to where my train would be going from. I probably should have put my trainers on, instead of my work boots but it was too late for that kind of self-reflection. My feet were aching and time was running out but Superdrug was in my sights and I needed to press on. Even into a violent headwind. I collapsed onto the train with 2 mins to spare, clutching three cans of panic-bought spray and felt the usual mix of triumph, exhaustion and despair at the futility of it all.
Because this isn't a rare occurrence. It's the third dress up day this half term which - lest we forget - is only 5 weeks long. It's a constant mental toll on the parents who squeeze a work day around their children's schedules and the threat of dropping all the relevant plates is a very real one. My child has twice gone to school in uniform when everyone else was dressed as chefs or French people and you wouldn't think it was a mistake anyone would make twice. But I did. I expect I'll make it a third time, only now I have two children of school age so twice as many hurt feelings to deal with. I'm already scoring poorly in their estimation after missing their various assemblies and musicals and Maths Days and Science Days and Take Your Parent to School Days because my wonderful and perfectly-fitting job allows me to drop them off and pick them up every day but has little wiggle room in between. Even this, the most school-friendly of working schedules, leads to constant disappointment for my kids.
But there are some winners in the dress-up game. Because if you're crafty and have some free time and actually enjoy doing this kind of thing, school presents unending joyful challenges. World Book Day? Better start working on that Hungry Caterpillar costume. Careers Day? A spotless artists' smock will do the job and you have just the fabric to make it and enough left over for an adorable fabric palette. I don't begrudge these people their talent and enthusiasm for dress-up, I'm just not afraid to say that I lack both of those things. I am bereft of crafting talent and, after a few years of school, a little short on enthusiasm.
So tomorrow, my kids' hair will have the bare minimum of craziness. I mastered the doughnut-bun for the drama club performance today (and that's a whole other story) so tomorrow it can be a pink bun but I'm not going to be styling it into a cupcake. Although the idea of just sticking an actual doughnut in her hair is quite appealing - what could be crazier than that? It's a measure of the mania these dress-up days produce in me that this actually seems like a plausible idea.
Have pity, schools. Think of the parents who are trying to lead a life not entirely centered around trawling pound shops for glitter wigs. It may make magical memories for the children but it's driving us out of our minds...