40 years at school

There’s one aspect of parenthood that has proven consistently irksome to me: school. From that first terrifying day when I left my irreplaceable littlie in the clutches of a teacher, it was all downhill.

Your child usually quickly gets accustomed to the hurly-burly of this new society, of which he/she will be a member, willing or otherwise, for at least 12 years. And you? What do you get?

Bills. The cost of educating a child is simply staggering. And tuition fees, uniforms, transport, stationery and textbooks are just the beginning. Throughout each school year there’s an endless call on your wallet: for field trips, cake sales, civvies’ days, photographs, excursions, class parties, extramurals, etc, etc, etc.

Meetings and functions. It was when I found myself sitting through yet another interminable AGM and realised that if I didn’t get out of there quickly, I was going to let loose with a primeval scream of pent-up boredom and frustration that I realised I’d done my time at school gatherings. I still attended end-of-year concerts and sat through two hours of the prancings of other people’s little darlings to be present for my own pair’s two minutes of fame, but it took all the patience I had – and a big belt of whiskey beforehand.

Truck with teachers. I wasn’t madly fond of most of the teachers when I was at school and not much has changed. So the teacher who told my son he’d burn in hell because he isn’t a Christian, for instance, isn’t someone I’d want to engage with as an adult – yet, in the interest of protecting my child’s right to religious freedom, I had to.

And I also have to tackle the little Hitler who keeps my daughter in after school for some infraction she hasn’t actually committed (thus greatly inconveniencing me) and the sociopath who refuses to give my child permission to go home early despite irrefutable evidence of illness (like, vomit on the classroom floor).

Volunteer duty or great lashings of guilt. I’ve never presided over a table of homemade cookies at a cake-and-candy sale or spent an afternoon decorating a school hall or accompanied 50 grade-7s on a week-long camping trip. But I admit none of this with any pride. Every time I filled in ‘no’ on one of those tear-off-and-return slips, I was almost overwhelmed by guilt and had to stop myself adding ‘PTO’ to the bottom and then explaining overleaf why I couldn’t volunteer (single parent, full-time job, etc).

Lots of time in the car. It’s not called ‘Mom’s Taxi’ for nothing.

Homework. It was bad enough when my kids were younger and I was having to help them every afternoon with simple tasks like learning lists of new words and adding single-digit numbers, because it was boring. But by the time they reached high school and my input was requested on calculus problems and the significance of weather as a metaphor in The Tempest, I just felt stupid. And I was repeatedly reminded how much I hated homework when I was at school.

School nights. And school mornings. It was only as an adult that I realised that almost everyone – not only me – suffered from Sunday-night blues when they were at school. And when my kids started school, that awful feeling came rushing back, because the start of another school week for them was, of course, also the start of another school week for me. And if there’s one thing I really, truly hate, it’s being forced into wakefulness by an alarm clock – yet how else are you going to get up at dawn’s crack to get the kids dressed, fed and off to school in time?

With my own 12 and each of my children’s 14 (both did two years of preschool), I’ve now clocked up 40 person-years of school. And that, surely, is enough for anyone in one lifetime.

What are your pet hates about school days – yours or your kids’?
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