I’m all for education. But I want my children back.
I LOVED school when we started. One child taken care of for the whole day, five days a week. The smart little book bag in the hall, the nativity to look forward to. The sense that our family was joining a community.
But now, I’m nostalgic for the old days, when the family danced to the rhythm of my drum, not the school’s.
Were they really so good though, those pre-school days? I’ve drawn up a little checklist to decide.
Pre School. Often hellish. Starting at 2am, then again at 3.30am, then 5am, then you’re up. I was exhausted – but at least I didn’t have to be anywhere. And if I did go out, and forgot the baby wipes or dummies, I could just borrow or buy some.
Post School. Nearly always hellish. Starting at a slightly more sociable 6.30am, but ending in mummy sweating and swearing as she fastens seatbelts and tries to rub toothpaste off his one clean school jumper. If I forget the reading book, it will be the day the head of year reads with the class and I will be cast as bad mum.
Pre School: If you were having a bad day, you could hide. Stay in your pyjamas. You were sobbing, but at least it was in the comfort of your own home.
Post School: You have to paste on a smile at the school gates. Or risk blubbing on mums you hardly know (which I did only this morning). Which is no bad thing, but sometimes you’d rather have a little breakdown in peace. Although I now have a number of friends who I’d happily moan to at school, I don’t want to abuse the privilege.
Pre School: You could all knock around together. Sometimes literally with sibling squabbling, but it made them the close little brothers they are now. Doing anything or going anywhere was a nightmare, but at least it was your own private nightmare.
Post School: They miss each other. My toddler enjoys having my undivided attention, as long as I am not refusing him snacks, but there is a big brothers-shaped hole in his day.
Pre School: You can largely manage your child’s social life. And although socialisation is important, a child’s real best friend is you. What a lovely feeling. Even if their way of showing it was allowing you to clear up their toileting mistakes.
Post School: Friends, and, worse, non-friends, are completely out of your control. You can still have a say over who they playdate with, obviously, but the social currents of the classroom are beyond your power. Was my son’s sad face on going into school this morning because I didn’t have the snack of his choice for him – or because he had been left out of a game last lunch-break?
Friends: Mummy’s / Daddy’s
Pre School: The isolation of motherhood is well known to many of us. If you aren’t lucky with your NCT group, or have no friends with similar age babies, the early years can be a very lonely time. On the other hand, if you don’t actually want to talk to anyone all day, or even all week, you don’t have to.
Post School: I have more mummies than I know what to do with. Great for my social life, terrible for my liver.
Pre School. Afternoons could be long – it sometimes seemed like forever till bedtime. But you could wander in the park till the sun started to fade from the sky. You could have an afternoon walk or do an activity after naptime. You could go for a teatime playdate without stressing about reading books and getting them in bed so they wouldn’t be tired for school. You didn’t have to wake up your baby to drag him on the school run.
Post School: The school pick-up punches a hole in the middle of the afternoon. All the pent-up energy and emotions of the day are fired at you; you, who were looking forward to seeing their little faces again, looking forward to it being a peaceful pick-up. One day. And then to fit in homework, playtime, tea, bath, and bed for three children in a manner that does not drive us all into hysteria.
Tantrums and Meltdowns
Pre School: Sprinkled throughout the week with no rhyme or reason – but at least it kept it interesting.
Post School: Explosions like clockwork, at 8am on leaving the house in a storm of rushed resentment, and 3.30pm on being picked up after a long, tiring day to discover mummy is not going to buy them an ice cream every day after school. However early I get up, however hard I try to manage a peaceful exit from the premises, getting three out of the house – and remembering my keys – always falls apart at the last. Fireworks at bedtime when the poor boys, aged 7 and 5, exhausted and strung out, bemoan how little play they’ve had all day.
Pre School. Two long days of family time, punctuated with the usual family spats. But they were spontaneous and carefree (or they could be if we weren’t bickering about who was more tired).
Post School. Two short days of rugby and football clubs, pestering about homework, washing and ironing uniform, punctuated by pitifully brief patches of fun. OK, maybe I exaggerate, and it is our choice to do sports out of school, but the dark spectre of homework overshadows the whole weekend for us at the moment.
Pre School: Spent watching Netflix. And with my first two, worrying about work next day.
Post School: Spent preparing uniform, book bags, snacks, after-school activity stuff, worrying about the five year-old’s spelling test, the seven-year-old’s times tables, the toddler’s pre-school book bag, the prospect of keeping this up for the next 16 years…
The Organ-grinder’s Monkey
Pre School. The kids were the monkeys, I was the organ-grinder.
Post School. We are the monkeys, the school is the organ-grinder. Notices from the Head, letters from the class teacher- they are meant to help, and they do. But they are a cogent reminder that we are part of a System now.
Why should I resent relinquishing control of my children’s every move to an institution that has their best interests at heart, will provide them with the education they need to succeed in life, offers them a world of interest, variety and experience, and which, I should have mentioned earlier, they actually LOVE, on the whole? (As I did myself.)
Is it a pathetic power struggle, a need to be the only one they look to for answers, a petty concern with the inconvenience to me of their new routine and obligations?
Or is it the mother’s instinct to cover her children with her arms so the world can’t hurt them?
Why don’t you home school them, then, you sentimental sop, I hear you cry?
Because my babies have eaten my brain.
What do you think? Do you find things are harder now the children are at school?