My daughter, Amélie is soon going to start school. Along with thousands of other kids across the country, we’ll be getting up extra early on Monday September 7th to get her school uniform on, pack small pots with snacks and sandwiches and make a head of 4-year-old hair look suitably coiffed. Amélie will be a little nervous no doubt, but will mostly be excited, more so because she gets to use her Frozen lunch box and rucksack. I on the other hand, will be more apprehensive.
The daunting thing is that we are both starting school that day, and aside from my sometimes unfounded anxieties about my children, I am selfishly more nervous about my new role as a School Mum. I don’t think I know which category I fit in, I’m presuming there isn’t a group next to ‘yummy mummy’ or ‘forgetful parent’ that says ‘the disabled mum’. Are there any books I can read to prepare myself for how to behave? How many people do I need to converse with at the school gates? What do I wear? How many times is it acceptable to use the question “did you have a good summer?” Is it frowned upon to only talk to people you already know? Surely complete strangers don’t need to introduce themselves just because their respective children spend all day together? I’m imagining it might be a bit like going to the hairdressers’. Neither party in the hair cutting experience actually wants to get into the other’s personal life in the 50 minutes you are sat in the white faux leather chair, with a floor-to-ceiling mirror reflecting your own awkwardness. The hairdresser doesn’t particularly want to know if you’ve any holidays booked this year, and she couldn’t give two hoots about your perspective on the weather. If she wants to know, she can look out of the window.
I’m wondering if every school mum strives to be on the PTA. I’m not sure if there’s an audition process, or if I’d have to bake a homemade coffee and walnut cake as bribery, or if I have to be related to the janitor or something. I’m assuming it’s still somewhat of a club for moany overgrown Teacher’s Pets like when I was in primary school. I love a good moan and I’m all for supporting people to make changes that need changing, especially when it comes to something my children have to be involved in, but I’m not sure if I want to be a part of yet another battle of popularity, ego boosting and parent politics. It’s going to be complicated enough trying to find ways to explain to new people that they don’t need to swoop in and do my kid’s coat up for me. I don’t doubt there will be a Rescue Parent rotating around and with their nose in everyone’s business at all times. Those are the kind of parent politics I’ll be dealing with!
So what sort of school mum are you? Do you always try to make conversation with the person standing next to you or is it acceptable to have moments of relative silence, not needing to know what brand of cornflakes the other buys, or how their kid scored on the spelling test? Is it important to make sure your little darlings look their best for at least the beginning of the school day, out of the fear of what other parents might think? Nobody doesn’t judge. We all do it. I like my kids to look tidy for the most part and I like their hair and clothes to look like they’ve been washed recently. No one wants to sit next to the smelly kid. But almost equally, they are kids after all and does it really matter if their shoes have yesterday’s mud on, or they have a toothpaste smear on their sleeve.*
I do also wonder what teachers’ impressions of certain parents are. I often get anxious about the fact that I don’t often speak up about something I want to say to those looking after and educating my children. In a similar way, I get anxious and paranoid if I ask those people something which I only need to ask because of my disability out of fear of being an awkward burden. For example, at the Parent/Teacher meeting a few weeks back, I seemed to get more stressed than necessary, about needing to ask Amélie’s future teacher what the wheelchair access is like throughout the school. I don’t plan on hanging out in the playground at lunchtime, or joining in with the infants’ Christmas Production, but I need to know what kind of lengthy detours I’ll have to take to get around in the buildings my child will be in for the next 7 years, and my youngest child for three years after that. I don’t want to single my children out as those kids whose mum can’t get into their classroom for parents’ evening.
It’s given me a lot to think about. I wonder what Amélie’s new friends will be asking their parents about the lady in the wheelchair, and what their parents will say back. You might be thinking that this is all very presumptuous to think that I will be occupying people’s thoughts this much, and that I’ll blend in with the rest of the parents waiting to pick up their little darlings and their precious offspring won’t stop to stare (which I don’t mind, by the way) and maybe you’ll be right. But experience tells me otherwise.
It hasn’t ever happened. I’ve never blended in; as much as I’ve tried, I’ve always been ‘different’. Well since I started primary school myself around 25 years ago. Attitudes have changed since then but there is still a heck of a long way to go. Just having to ask about school wheelchair access singles me out instantly. Then I have to consider the gradient of the slope into the school entrance, too steep and I’ll have to bulldoze parents (maybe some kids too) on my way in, or I’ll need help just to access the school to pick my child up.
I just don’t want Amélie to feel different in her first few years in education because her friends have noticed something different about her family. The next few days and weeks will be very telling.
Until then, I’ll be the one lingering at the outskirts of the queue like the awkwardly misshapen carrot in the field that isn’t quite sure of its future occupation.
*seriously, how long until a child stops wiping their toothpasted face on their clean sleeve? I’ll let you know in a few years…