I knew my relationship with you would be complicated, long before I sent my bright-eyed little 5-year-old through your doors seven years ago. I should have seen the warning signs when you turned filling out the enrollment form into a Kafka-esque nightmare, in which the paperwork could only be received and submitted in person, from 9 am to 3 pm on a weekday. But I was drawn in by those construction paper flowers on the windows, that close proximity to my house, that free price tag after years of dropping thousands on daycare and twee little preschools. And so I skipped out of work to sign my deal with the devil—and apparently, sign myself up for a flashback to the 1950s.
For even though the year is 2016 and a large majority of the school’s students come from families where both parents work hard for the money, the school likes to pretend we’re still living in that “Leave it to Beaver” fantasy of the stay-at-home mum in pearls and an apron.
First came the barrage of holidays and half days. I had a plan for covering public holidays, but then it seemed like you were just making up reasons to close the school or send the kids home before lunch. “Pupil free” days tacked onto the end of holidays and public holidays.
Clearly you thought that most families had a mum or a dad at home to take on a Pinterest-feed’s worth of crafts with the kiddos on all those days off. And since I wasn’t ready for my 5-year-old to become a latchkey kid, I hired sitters, and eventually started working from home to accommodate your demanding schedule.
But you weren’t done. Next came the music program and the seasonal concerts, where the kids would get up in colour-coordinated outfits with their 50 classmates and sing Kumbaya or about Rudolf or dreidels. But instead of holding these in the evening (like my clearly progressive 1980s elementary), or first thing in the am, so working parents could try to wheedle a late start out of their bosses, you placed those squarely in the middle of the day: 1:30 pm. A time that must be convenient for you, but works for absolutely no one else—including the stay-at-home mums you clearly adore, who often had afternoon younger-sibling nap times to contend with. In seven years at the school, my husband can count on one hand the number of concerts he attended in person. And yes, I’ve often had to take conference calls from outside the school hall, and hope that I don’t miss videoing her five minutes of fame.
And then, of course, there were all the volunteer opportunities. Reading to the class. Throwing class parties (with mandated “healthy” snacks that would still feel festive for the students). Helping build a giant cake shaped like Australia (what was that you were saying about healthy snacks?). Running the Entertainment Book sale or cupcake stalle or buy your mum a mother’s day gift with her own money sale. Setting your child up for disappointment when you can’t possibly volunteer for every canteen day and class mum opportunity. Hearing about how Timmy’s mum makes it to every single event AND designs the school magazine, and why can’t you, Mummy? That’s when you really broke my heart, and my kid’s, too.
But even though we can’t entirely quit you, we’re taking a big step closer this year. My oldest heads off to the high school, where the mums who’ve come before me say that most events take place at working-family-friendly hours.
Of course, you still like to throw a monkey wrench—by having primary school and high school at the same start and stop time. I’m already exploring the Sophie’s Choice depths of which child’s first day of school I attend, and figuring out how on earth I will get both kids off to school to two different schools at the very same time each day—and still manage to make it back to get to my work on time. I will miss these days with my kids, but I can’t say I will miss you.
More for mums with school-age kids:
- School Holidays Are Coming: 9 Things to Panic About Right Now
- All the Things More Effective Than Sex Ed in School
- When Should You Stop Letting Your Kids See You Naked?