“Packed lunch pandemonium” has broken out in my local neighbourhood.
That’s according to a recent report in the Ilford Recorder, after police were called to Nightingale Primary School in South Woodford in London to deal with a blazing row. The cause of this altercation? A father had tried to drop off his daughter’s forgotten packed lunch, but wasn’t allowed.
The reason, the school explained, was its strict ‘no drop-off policy’, meaning that anything a child leaves at home – be it PE kit, homework or even food – has to stay there “to stop disruption to children’s learning”.
But this bizarre rule goes against a fundamental truth about parenting, which is that it’s absolutely impossible to be perfect. Believe me, I’ve tried. And failed –magnificently. So magnificently that I would describe our regular Monday morning as something akin to... a tornado.
We’re often late, I usually end up shouting (and always regret it). On the way to school, someone will inevitably lose something vital – whether it’s the aforementioned P.E kit, their favourite pencil or that ‘special pebble’ they picked up in the forest that definitely has magic powers and the school day will be a total disaster if they don’t have it in their pocket, and no, they absolutely will not walk another step until you find it. That kind of chaos.
The reason it’s always like this? Well, it probably doesn’t help that I’m woefully disorganised (though forever trying not to be), but really it’s because... I’m human. Parenting is tough and fraught with unpredictability. You’re never more than 6ft from a rat, or so the saying goes, and when you have small kids the same goes for snot, or vomit, or explosive diarrhoea, or a tantrum.
Most of the time, I’m just trying to survive. And it’s a “good day” if I manage to multi-task (meaning: a shower and breakfast), while managing to keep two small people safe and fed and alive. Anything else (remembering to sign forms, bringing in something for class ‘show and tell’, attending the school ‘recorder concert’) is a bonus.
And we all get it wrong, sometimes. Show me the parent who hasn’t, at least once, forgotten a form (my daughter didn’t have her flu jab this winter, because I failed to sign off permission) or a deposit (I’ve been meaning to pay the £8 school ‘choir club’ fees for at least 25 years) and I will call him or her my hero.
We’re fallible. We forget things. We mess things up. But punishing our kids for our mistakes (and the real victims of this kind of “packed lunch pandemonium” are the kids) isn’t going to make it any better. It just piles on the guilt. And believe me, we’ve already got that in spades.