Drinking fountains, handball and monkey bars at recess – that’s what primary school is all about. One mum muses on what she knows about primary now it’s almost over.
With my youngest two children in their final months of Year Six, I am about to say goodbye forever to the world of primary school. There’s something inordinately sweet about watching your kids go through primary school: it’s the time you remember best of your own childhood. It evokes a vivid nostalgia, a sepia-toned replay of friends you’ll never forget and those seminal playground moments that shaped you forever.
It’s drinking fountains and handball at recess, it’s monkey bars at lunchtime, it’s school concerts where things never quite go to plan, it’s grass-scuffed knees, it’s shorts and polo shirts and hats for sun protection, it’s artwork strung like washing across the classroom and chairs that grow bigger with the children.
But above all, it’s one teacher who spends all day with them and if you are lucky, cares about them almost as much as you do.
Just recently, at the zone athletics carnival, this fact struck me like an epiphany.
One of my twins somehow managed to run fourth in the 200m final. As he crossed the finish line I saw his class teacher (who was on the field marshalling the long jump) stop what he was doing to spontaneously rush over and give Alex a ‘well done’ hug. There was such a total comfort and familiarity in the gesture, a mutual pride in Alex’s achievement, that my eyes filled with grateful tears.
You just don’t get that sort of care in high school.
As my kids and I leave primary school behind, forever, here are some other things I know about being a primary school mum.
1. You don’t have to join the PTA
And you don’t have to feel bad about not joining the PTA. There are certain people who love doing this stuff and it annoys them when us lesser mortals try to get involved. Leave them to it, help when help is asked for, but don’t feel guilty about not being ‘in there’ all the time. Some people do, some people don’t.
2. The one time you do try to get involved, it will be a disaster
If you are not one of those people who gets involved, there will be one time when you decide to get involved and it will blow up in your face. You will then vow never to get involved again.
3. You will get at least one dud teacher
If you are unlucky, you will get two. If you get more than two, it’s time to think about changing schools. But one’s not a bad innings. Just grin and bear it until the year is over and hope for the best next time.
4. Some kid, some time will do something pretty horrible to your kid
Whether it’s name calling, leaving them out of a group, taking his lunch, or a physical knock. When this happens, the best course of action is to give that child the mother of all stink-eyes at school the next day. Stare that kid down with a look that says, “If you hurt my kid again, I WILL kill you.” Just don’t say it out loud.
5. Conversely, your kid, some time, will probably do something horrible to another kid
When this happens, accept that your child is in the wrong and call the other parent to apologise. It will do enormous amounts for hosing the situation down.
6. School concerts and plays are not designed to showcase the kids with the greatest talent
They are designed to showcase the kids who follow directions and make the staging of a concert easy. Your kid may be a brilliant actor/singer/dancer, but if he doesn’t show that he can be a cog in the system, he won’t be put centrestage. It’s not a comment on his talent, but a comment on how well he takes direction.
7. School reports are not a personality profile of your child
They are a report to the curriculum. If you are expecting a glowing, emotional essay on how wonderful and talented your kid is, you will be disappointed every time you open that envelope.
8. Kids can be unkind to each other
The playground is a psychological battlefield; it’s Lord of the Flies with teachers on the periphery. No one will die, but feelings will get hurt and emotional scars will be scored. This is the playing field that will shape your child. Keep an eye on it, but resist going in.
9. Kids can also be unexpectedly compassionate
They are completely ‘colour-blind’ and accepting of difference if we just stay out of their way with all of our experience-based prejudices.
10. Teachers are people and they are fallible
They have strange quirks and unexpected allegiances. They are just as tangled up in staffroom politics as the kids are tangled up in playground politics. It’s a workplace, just like your own. Some of them don’t get on, some of them are unreasonable, some of them are actually quite weird.
11. You will step back in time
When faced with the dynamic of the parents in the playground you will find yourself becoming the child you always were. School parents behave like kids, they form cliques, they gossip about each other, they freeze people out, they hold grudges and settle petty scores.
I became, once again, a ‘floater’: I floated from one group to another, I was slightly treacherous at times when the gossip was too good to miss and ultimately I did not pledge allegiance to anyone but myself.
12. There will be one parent who is for some random reason, your nemesis
It could be as simple as, you once inadvertently took her self-appointed park right outside the school gate. Whatever the reason, however trivial, you will be destined to awkwardly cross paths with her every time you enter the playground and every time you do the grocery shopping at the local supermarket. “Oh no, there’s that crazy woman who gives me the hairy eyeball and I never know why.”
13. Parents generally act in the best interests of their own child and not in the best interests of the herd
For example: when money gets raised at the annual school fete, the parents of children who like to play on monkey bars will push for new monkey bars, the parents of children who play music will push for a new music room, the parents of children who like to play tennis will push for a new tennis court … no one will stop and think about what is best for the school, in the long-term, as a whole.
This is when you must have compassion for the president of the PTA as he/she deals with the cacophony of “My child! My child! My child!” coming from the unruly mob of the parent body.
14. The best kind of school principal is one with an open door
They can give you all manner of spiels around how each child is special and how each child will be treated as an individual and blah blah blah, but all you need do to figure out what they’re really about, is walk by the office any time of day and see if the door is (generally) open.
15. The lunch you so carefully pack each day, will rarely be eaten
Don’t take it personally, sometimes kids just want to get up and play tag and eating just gets in their way.
16. You will all get nits … At least once
If you don’t know what a nit looks like, you soon will.
17. Those kindergarten kids will get smaller and smaller every year
Every year after your kid is in kindergarten, you will hear yourself say: “My God, those new kids are so tiny!” And yes, your kid was once that tiny, too.
18. The chicken pox note will come at least twice a year
Get your kids vaccinated to ease the anxiety when this note does its biannual circulation.
19. Just when you are saying to yourself, “I’m so over this whole primary school thing” it will be over and you will feel really sad about it
And instead of getting a bit wistful over random kids you don’t know high-fiving everyone in the ‘goodbye’ circle on the last day of school (it gets me every time) it’ll be your kid and you’ll be bawling your eyes out.
20. It’s the sweetest, safest time of your parenting life
Enjoy it while you can.
This article was written by Penny Flanagan for Kidspot.com.au and has been adpated for Kidspot.co.nz