Back-to-school blues

Chatterbox and Raging Bull

My two little scholars before we left for London

When I was kid I dreaded every single September. I wasn’t one of those kids who liked going back to school. The only thing I remember liking was buying new shoes.

Thirty years later and nothing has changed. I still don’t like September, and I still love buying new shoes. My kids went back to school last week, but why do I feel like I’ve gone back with them? The older these kids are getting, the more I feel like I need to pass certain tests as a parent or else flunk out.

It’s a brand-new school this year for the third year running, so I feel once again like I need to make new friends. By friends, I mean local parents who might invite the kids over for a playdate. As a working parent, I need favors from parents, and these are favors I might not be able to reciprocate that quickly. Here I am again, facing the prospect of getting to know a group of strangers and engaging in idle chit-chat. Not my strong point. (Grade: C)

Then I need to figure out the school’s policy towards homework and what the 7-year-old Chatterbox and the 4-year-old Raging Bull will be expected to do in the academic year. Today that meant going to a ‘curriculum meeting’ with their teachers. I get there two minutes late and already there are parents sitting down taking notes. Taking notes! I feel like I’ve stepped into a time machine and got out at the sixth grade.

I recognize these parents. I know their type. They’re the ones who always got straight ‘As’ and were the teacher’s pet. In other words, they were my enemy. I was the kind of kid who slouched in the back row and tried really hard to look invisible. Funnily enough, this is where I end up for the meeting, sitting as far back in the room as possible and feeling confused by the information being thrown at me. It’s a feeling I know only too well.

I have no idea what the teachers are talking about. I hear information about homework, dinosaurs, school trips, swimming lessons, PE bags, snacks, balls, jump ropes and just about everything you can imagine.

I’m not reassured by the parents who are scribbling away furiously. If one of the teachers suddenly announced a pop quiz, these parents are ready. It’s week two and already I feel like I’m failing. (Grade: D)

Then there’s the after-school activities. I’m flunking this too. The school year has caught me off guard because I spent five weeks in California, lulled into a false sense of security by the warm sun. Suddenly I’m thrust into this whirlwind of activity and I realize I’ve missed out on getting the kids into dance lessons and music lessons. Or maybe a language club.

Everything around here – in my little corner of north London – has a waiting list. London is filled with waiting lists, you see, because there are too many damn people living here and everything is just too small. So there is a waiting list for the after-school club, there’s a waiting list for ballet, waiting lists for tennis and music lessons. There’s no chance of these kids doing anything vaguely artistic or sporty because they just need to wait. (Grade: D)

And finally there’s homework. Little did I know that I would be back to doing homework, nearly 20 years after I finished my college degree and thought I’d banished those dark days of studying forever. Hell no. As a parent you are expected to do homework, because if you don’t do it, the children won’t do well in school and it will all be your fault. Of course, you could have a bookworm genius who doesn’t need help, but the average child will need cajoling and prompting. The average child will need someone to sternly watch them like a hawk or that homework will never get done. These are my children.

Don’t be fooled: a homework grade is simply a reflection of how well you have done your homework as a parent.

I’ve seen the competition. I think I’m going to have to get studying. At least I can use the cold weather as an excuse to buy new shoes.

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Filed under British life, motherhood

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