On the third of September 1939, two seven-year-old girls fell out in the school playground. One called the other stupid causing her to pull her hair and proclaim that they were no longer best friends. At pick up time, both girls ran to their mothers, told the sordid story of a friendship broken and in turn, the mothers squared up to one another, neither believing their perfect offspring was the one at fault.
Forget what you’ve read in history books; this is actually how World War Two started – courtesy of Mavis and Doris from Surbiton.
I thought I’d left school behind when I walked out of the gates for the last time once glorious July day in 1996. Little did I know that one day, I would have a child and when that child started school at 5, I would be thrown straight back into the world of the playground myself.
As much as we all like to think we are individuals who do our own thing and won’t get sucked into cliques, it inevitably happens when our children start school and we are faced with the prospect of seven years of the school run, sharing a playground with people who all we have in common with is the age of our children.
The school run is to entirely to blame for the playground cliques and stand offs that parents face on a daily basis. Drop offs can usually be done in a hassle free way. Once the children are out of reception, you can usually drop and run, thereby eliminating the stress of having to make small talk at half past 8 in the morning.
Collection time is the real emotional drain. Unless you have precision timing and reach the classroom door as soon as your child is about to walk out, you are stuck in the playground having to mingle. It’s like a really awkward party that you didn’t want to go to and where you don’t know anyone, only it happens every day. For seven years (give or take the glorious school holidays).
As humans, we always migrate into groups of people who we deem to be ‘like us’. You see it in every playground across the country (and I bet, the whole world) everyday at 3.15pm, people segregated into little groups.
There are several types of parent on the school run, ranging from the working mum who boots the children out of the car whilst barely slowing to a stop so she can catch the train on time, to the worthy stay at home mum, who drops the children off and then spends the day at the school reading with reception children and organizing the latest PTA event.
Then there are the drop and run parents who do their best not to make any eye contact and pride themselves on being able to time the pick ups so implacably that they have never had to speak to another school parent since 2005 (this was me) and the nannies and child-minders who are at the bottom of the school yard pecking order and are mostly avoided by the other parents.
Here are a few types of parent, you all know at least one person who fits into these groups:
1) The in crowd. These are women who are supremely confident and the envy of all others. They are sometimes referred to as ‘yummy mummies’ and are always impeccably turned out. They are the ones who float in serenely at pick up time, a take away coffee from a hipster café in one hand and holding a designer bag in the other all while pushing a fabulously behaved toddler in a pram that cost more than your car. They are all swishy hair, expensive perfume, smiles, scintillating conversation and are on first name terms with all the school staff. Their children are the ones who excel in everything, get the main parts in the school play and are always helpful and polite. You can’t decide if you loathe these women or are a little bit in love with them. Either way, they never look in your direction (unless they are judging your paint stained leggings).
2) The PTA mums. PTA is often said to stand for ‘Parent Teacher Association’. Actually, it doesnt. It stands for ‘Pain in the Arse’ and that’s just what PTA mums are. They are on a constant mission to raise money for the school and recruit new PTA volunteers – but only the right volunteers. They only want the in crowd, as described above. However, the PTA is slightly uncool for the most polished of the in crowd, so they have to make do with any middle class mother who can bake and sell raffle tickets to work colleagues. Like the in crowd mums, they are also on first name terms with the teachers and their children also get plum parts in the school play – but this is because the teachers are slightly afraid of them as the PTA members are usually either married to, or best friends with a school governor. You avoid PTA mums like the plague incase they ask you to make cupcakes for the cake sale or help out at the summer fete.
3) The vague mum. I think this is the category that most of us fall into. We just want to collect our kid and go home. So we make polite conversation about our children, smile and watch the clock until the bell rings and the children come spilling out the doors. If you are lucky, you will find one or two kindred sprits among this group and real friend ships can develop. You like these mums, you smile at them and they, for the most part smile back.
4) The child-minders, nannies and au pairs. This group generally keep within their own group. It’s an odd thing, but however lovely they are, parents do not identify with them. The reason? Because nannies and child-minders get paid to put up with the whinging and bad behavior of young children and get to hand the children back at the end of the working day. You are jealous that come 8pm when you are wresting the children into bed after an exhausting evening of shouting, cooking food that no one will eat, washing up and looking forward to the baby waking three times in the night, they will have clocked off and will be in peace and quiet with a glass of wine. The more you think about it, the more you dislike them. Oh, and the au pairs? You especially dislike them as they all look like 18 year old, French supermodels and you look like a trolls grandmother in comparison.
5) The stay at home dad. There is always one. He usually around 45 and has a beard. Why is he here? You won’t ask him why he is the one doing the school run, because if you do, the PTA mums will have announced it on the 9 0’Clock news that you are having an affair with him when all you have done is day hello. You feel sorry for him as he always looks uncomfortable while standing alone playing Tetris on his iPhone.
Whatever type of parent you are or who you come across, do not, under any circumstances fall out with them. Nodding, smiling and agreeing is your friend and is sometimes the only way to deal with playground parents.
Children will be the best of friends on day and sworn enemies the next. When children fall out (as they do very often; sometimes entire friendships are broken off and made up again within a fifteen minuet playtime) there is a certain type of parent who likes to get involved. This can range from telling their child that they may never even look in the offending child’s direction ever again, to the slightly unhinged behavior of stalking of the other parent to demand answers.
The golden rule of the school gate is to stay out of the children’s friendships. Baring bullying, children are best left to get on with social encounters themselves. When parents get involved, it can escalate until the situation is petty and out of hand
My son once fell out with a boy in his class who’s mother just happened to be the head of the PTA (and was also slightly insane). It was a classic boy falling out; my son didn’t choose his friend to be on his side in a game of football. To a seven year old, this is the ultimate betrayal and at home time, the boy ran crying to his mother proclaiming my child to be the devil incarnate and over egged the story so much that the not being chosen for the team suddenly turned into an awful tale of long term bullying. Had it have been the other way round I would have taken the story with a pinch of salt, especially as the to boys had been friends for a while without a hint of a problem.
The PTA mum is not like me though, and before I knew it, I was persona non grata in the playground; the mother who had spawned the evil sprog. Actually, I was quite relived at this new status as PTA mum and her friends had been trying to recruit me to join the PTA mafia for quite some time and this new snub was a welcome relief.
Of course, our boys were friends again by the next afternoon, once again getting on like a house on fire and spending hours chatting about football and club penguin. This was much to the distain of PTA mum, so much so, that when the school Christmas fair came round, she engineered that my son got a Barbie as his toy from Santa’s grotto. What she didn’t expect, however, was her son to swap my son the football he got saying he would give the Barbie to his toddler sister.
The apple fell very far from the tree in that case, although, it was my one and only small victory over the PTA mums in seven long years.