Thursday, 8 October 2015

"My dog ate my son's reply slip" – Why parents shouldn't need to make excuses.

It is my son's school harvest festival today. I know that because it said it on the pink sheet of 'dates to remember' that I found in my child's book bag. In fact, it said it on several letters in the run up to it, along with the letter about the quiz night and the school photographs and the recycling day where they plan to make a giant paper-mache statue of a stressed-out mother with all the millions of letters that they get (okay, maybe not the last one, but you get my point.). But it is safe to say that I know it is harvest festival, along with the hundred other things I know about; like my son's reading practice, and the phonics homework, and the permission slips I need to return, and the children's parties he is invited to, and the presents I need to buy. I know, I know.

I knew about the harvest festival when I bought some cans of food ready to take in. I knew about the harvest festival when the school sent home a label the day before for my child to write his name and draw pretty pictures on so he could pin it to his food. I knew about the harvest festival when my phone buzzed and reminded me of it. I knew about the harvest festival when I was half way to school and Simeon's mum said 'are you going to the harvest festival?' And I said "Oh, crap, I forgot the tins." and she looked at me with that face that says 'awkward', as the mass canned food she had brought spilled out slightly from the bag in the bottom of her youngest's push chair.

When I got to my son's classroom the side was covered with nicely wrapped hampers and huge bags of food for the homeless, all with beautifully drawn labels with pretty pictures on and smily faces 'love from Emily' 'I hope you like the food, love Harry'. My hope of rectifying the situation by nipping into co-op for a few tins of beans (basically anything I could carry with my youngest strapped to my chest) had not appeased the situation. I started to feel my palms sweat as I coyly asked the teaching assistant for a pen so I could write my son's name on the three tins I'd brought in; spaghetti hoops, beans, and some sort of minced beef in a tin that my son had chosen. She looked at me blankly. Of course she did, I mean, how simple is it to get your child to write his name on a bit of paper and collate it to a tin of beans? Hard, actually, when they would much rather be watching Umizoomi and you're trying to feed a ten month old his breakfast. I then realised I hadn't got a bag for the tinned goods, so I had to take my youngest's nursery things out of his to put them in. This resulted in me carrying random baby clothes and a toy elephant whilst trying to help my eldest to put his book bag in his drawer, whilst also trying to stop my ten month old grabbing at my hair and leaving me with a bald patch. I left a trail of baby socks and baby-grows on the classroom floor, having to manoeuvre between the other parents' legs to pick them back up. And I walked out looking like a washer woman, also carrying a loaf of bread that I had bought for ourselves along with the tins because I hadn't had time to go shopping, and I thought we deserved toast more than homeless people. Obviously.

On leaving the classroom my son was shouting something at me and I was too busy trying to gesticulate which his bag of tins was so he would know that I did in fact leave him some to take. I walked out feeling rather flustered, a shit mother and a bad citizen.

What my son was gesticulating to me was that he had a new teacher for the day and he was excitedly pointing at her and smiling. He pointed her out to me because this new development in his life was important to him. He didn't really care that I had left him cans or not as long as I listened to him. And I actually made it to his harvest festival today, and his little eyes lit up as he noticed I was there. He beamed at me with the most beautiful smile – and I knew in that moment that he knew I cared about him. And it's in those moments you have to give yourself a break and realise that what the teachers or the parents think of you doesn't matter – that it doesn't it matter that I forgot to make him write his name on a bit of paper because I spent time playing games with him instead; that it doesn't matter if I forgot to donate buns to the cake stall because I was too preoccupied thrashing him at Connect Four. Who decides that mothers and fathers need homework on top of it all too?

Now don't get me wrong, I totally appreciate that parents need to help their children to learn or to give them permission for school trips, and god forbid that we stop donating things to homeless people, but when there is more than one letter a day to keep filing away and updating your calendar from it gives me information overload and I forget things. I forget about the important things because I'm bombarded with unimportant things, like how the fish pie has been swapped for the fish cakes on the school dinner rota. Do I give a shit?! And maybe there are parents that do, but surely most would be happy to let their child choose what they want for lunch out of the selection of perfectly healthy options, and let them learn to make their own decisions. And I know how hard it must be for schools to try and organise school dinners, festivals and school trips, or to follow policies and curriculums, but there's a reason I did not become a teacher and have no desire to be one. Please don't give me homework too.

Newsflash: parents aren't just parents (which, and I don't care how cliché it sounds, we all know is a full time job in itself) – they still hold down other full time jobs, maintain relationships, pay bills, cook tea, clean... they have a life just like every other citizen. At what point did someone decide that it's okay to give parents a million other responsibilities, on top of caring for their children with all their heart? It's the equivalent of becoming a chef and then being told you ought to learn about botany because it is vaguely connected to your job and the ingredients you use. Does it make the dishes taste any better? No. In the same way that creating hampers or baking cakes doesn't make me a better parent.

I sorted through my son's book bag last night, and amidst the letters of dates and information overload was a little envelope that said 'mum and dad'. I opened it to read a little note he had written:

"I just love you."


It's enough.

We're enough.

We might forget tins of beans but we're enough.

And all the other (unimportant) letters went straight in the bin.

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