It's that time of year again when we holiday-weary parents pack our beloved little (and big) ones back off to school and breathe a sigh of relief that the summer holidays are over for yet another year.
But - whether you have an excitable new-School starter or children like mine who, despite years of school, still don't respond to my near hysterical mantra of: "Put your shoes on. Put your shoes on now. PUT YOUR SHOES ON NOW!" - I have a theory. We parents go 'back to school' just as our kids do.
Bear with me here. While getting the children (avec shoes) through the school gate is, of course, the first hurdle, once our little darlings have run off into the playground without so much as a backwards glance, we parents are left alone to fend for ourselves as all those 'first day at school' feelings come flooding back. And we regress - to sizing up our surroundings, picking our friendships (and battles) and choosing whether or not to go for the coveted position of teacher's pet.
As you look around you'll notice, amongst others, three distinct species of parent. The first are the tiger parents. While they prowl the school entrance with their personal tutors and iPads in tow you're most likely to hear them calling after their child to check they have their three musical instruments and remind them they have Mandarin classes and swimming lessons after school today. If you're of a delicate temperament you'd do well to avoid these types - in my experience they tend to be the queen of the back-handed compliment. My personal favourite to date is the particularly catty, "She's good at art. Is that even a subject?" in response to a boastful comment I made about my daughter's creative flair, but I've also had the likes of, "Oh your kids are so cute. It's so good they have that" and "Really, you work? You don't look like you work".
Next are the bling mums. New research shows these mums plan their school gate outfit at least a week in advance and get their hair, tan and nails done all in an effort to shame those of us that turn up in PJs, chipped nail polish and flip flops. Yes flip flops, sometimes even when it's snowing outside.
The third and hardest to spot types are the members of the sinister mummy mafia [see Gill Hornby's book The Hive and anything spouted by Katie Hopkins in general]. These Queen-Bee bully mums have followers who, supposedly, rule the playground, stomping over the pyjamio'd Mum's views on their child's education. I'm pleased to say I've yet to meet anyone who's ever come across one of these women outside of a book or newspaper article.
As you take it all in I've no doubt that, like me, you'll wish you could run to the nearest coffee shop and hide from these parents who you just don't want to know. But here comes the next step...it's time to make friends. You'll be seeing these same parents every day, twice a day for a whole academic year and, believe me, you'll need someone to laugh with at 8.45 am when it's rained for 13 school runs in a row and your eldest used your debit card to make a Christmas tree decoration.
Do as your children do...bank the judgement, be open and smile. Be ready with the small talk topics, whether it's a moan about the weather or shock over the latest episode of Breaking Bad. Despite my initial determination to be standoffish, silent mum in the past three years I've made friendships I rely on when I've had a particularly bad morning or need someone who can pick my kids up when work's running long. I've even found another mum with footwear-averse children like mine.
September may bring out uber parents at their very finest but, as you know in your heart of hearts, all us parents are pretty similar. By February, model-esque mum will appear in trainers with her hair scraped back, calm and collected mum will be dragging her screaming child through the gate and tiger mum will be confiding in you about everything from the state of her marriage to her dress size.
If you have a job, a partner and kids to feed and still manage to arrive at the school gate in time for the bell I'd say you're doing pretty blooming well, but if you're still a little nervous about navigating the school gate pitfalls here are my tried and tested rules:
- Always wear large sunglasses. These cover a multitude of sins (late nights, no make-up, rolling eyes).
- On very bad days add an iPod, it gets the message across that you don't want to talk much today.
- Never wear heels as they make it hard to get away from annoying mums and are equally hard to run in when late.
- Avoid PJ's. Yes it's occasionally all you can do to get out of bed, but turning up in PJs does make a certain statement about you to everyone including the teachers.
- Remind yourself that you do not have to make friends with any other parents, but 195 days (the length of a school year) is a LONG time to have to stand there on your own!
So how do you cope with the school run? Is it a daily disaster or not? Let me know your thoughts.