Now that we live across the road from A’s school my TV anguish is increasing. I dread the day her teacher cycles past and glancing through our front window, which I have come to realise is unusually large sees A slumped infront of some dodgy cartoon. This is a Steiner school as well. TV is practically outlawed! Possibly the worst example would be the animated series about a Chinese girl who looks like manga gone too far, her eyes take up more than half her face. I’ve been putting the telly on every day after school because that’s when the baby has his nap, so A is practically imprisoned, safely held captive while I’m busy upstairs. If any of the other parents or teachers do pass by regularly at that time then they’re bound to think of me as the TV mum.
Anyway today I reached a new level of telly anxiety. I was exposed, found guilty of day-time telly watching. I am embarrassed and now I’ll have no legs to stand on in the busy busy parent stakes. I was eating lunch, which was an exciting cheese and marmite sandwich and now I was having pudding, a cup of tea and wait for it…..a nutella sandwich! A childish diet is sometimes needed to refuel the motivation for more rounds of “she’ll be coming round the mountain.”
I was enormously frustrated that my laptop was not allowing me to listen to radio four. The droning on of those proper British radio voices is reassuringly nostalgic. I am turning rapidly into my dad. I draw the line though at ‘The Archers’. This for anyone who doesn’t know is a stalwart of the BBC. A long running radio soap about farmers. There are west-country accents, probably just so the actors can enjoy the ludicrous and authentic pronunciation of the word ‘tractor’ and there are mooing sound effects in the background. In any case if I hear the well known theme-tune starting I quickly turn off the radio to try and delay the fast approaching onset of middle-agedness. As far as I’m concerned you shouldn’t really be allowed to listen to The Archers until you’ve got time for hobbies and crossword puzzles and you’ve got a shed.
Being away from the UK I can only listen to BBC radio online and for some reason my laptop has a time and calendar that is wrong and won’t match up to the BBC iplayer so it doesn’t work. I tried my phone, but the phone in this out of bounds region. So I turned the telly on for a fix of BBC. As I was standing there in front of the vast front window with the remote in my hand I worried that a neighbour might walk past and it did occur to me to draw the curtains for this illicit act of TV watching but then I thought I was just being weird and paranoid. On BBC 1 it was something to do with some people selling some apparent antique thingy in a box for 35 quid so I continued flicking until I got to a BBC Entertainment, which was a sort of drama/sitcom about 30 somethings getting divorced I think. It was a programme I had never seen before but it had some lovely familiar British TV faces in it, so I sat down on the sofa and balanced my nutella sandwich on my lap. Just as I did this I looked out the window and saw the local council politician walking past my house! He is the father of one of the girls in A’s class and he lives further up the road from us. Now this was too pitiless. I should always listen to that paranoid self, I should have bloody closed the curtains. Now I’m already aware that when this man’s daughter came to play after school that I allowed her and A to watch an episode of Dora the Explorer.
Shall I quickly run outside right now? I think
Shall I tell him the whole story about the radio not working and that I never normally would watch TV in the middle of the day, honest?
Shit, in half an hour from now I will be picking A up from school and I’m sure he’ll be there to pick up his daughter too. Strangely enough a local council politician seems to have a lot of time on his hands for bringing and picking up his kids from school and meandering up and down his street checking up what other people are up to.
Right then, I decide,
When I see him I will have to pull myself together. I will calmy make intelligent polite chit chat. I will pretend that I’m not just a daytime telly addict, but a normal capable fellow parent. I will enthusiastically greet A with a healthy interest in her day at school.
Seriously, what am I going to do? I’m looking down at a half eaten chocolate spread sandwich watching my integrity take a backslide.
My daughter has started school. It is a huge event for us. You can see the school yard from our house so she has already watched the kids coming and going and this has been a point of great excitement for the last year. It was almost too good a fantasy that one day she would be one of those rucksacked children filing in to the building that she has seen so many times from the outside. To me it looks like so many other schools, but to her it has taken on the mystery of a fairytale castle.
Like good responsible parents we read through all the stuff that the school sent us, the structure of the school, the philosophy, learning goals, various celebrations, holidays, staff, bullying protocol etc. I remembered what Dr. Winston had said about preparing your child for school in that programme on the BBC, so I told A that she was going to school because she was going to learn, which was apparently the key word and also there were going to be lots of other children to make friends with. We went out to choose a school bag and a lunch box (actually in Holland it’s called a bread box due to the fact that bread seems to be the top and most important food staple to all Dutch folk and I say all because it transcends class, political leanings, health freaks, food philistines, everyone, if a Dutch person thinks it’s lunchtime they don’t ask, “shall we break for lunch?” they are far more likely to say “shall we eat a sandwich?” and while we’re on the subject a sandwich is a slice of bread topped simply with cheese, ham or chocolate sprinkles, yes even for adults!) So we’ve got the breadbox.
The first day arrives and A is suitably quaffed and neatly plaited. I am very proud. The other parents seem friendly and one mother helpfully introduces herself as Anouk, one of the parent reps and says I can ask her anything I need to. When we leave A smiles and waves goodbye, then turns back into the circle and listens to the teacher, who has achieved a trance-like atmosphere in the classroom by her morning ritual of playing the harp! (I should add at this point for anyone who is wondering whether I am lying that the school is a Steiner school….”ooooh” I hear you say)
When we pick her up A shows us a picture she has drawn and is smiling from ear to ear, so all in all I’d say it’s a good start.
Things continue to be successful for the first few weeks, she has a couple of friends, she’s been baking bread every Thursday, she’s been on a woodland walk to collect conkers, she’s learnt some ancient songs about gnomes and she’s even had a couple of playdates. One minor hiccup was when A turned to me while we were eating our evening pasta and said,
“Mummy, why is the teacher not teaching me things?”
“Ahh” I replied
I had to have a bit of a think about how to answer this and then I tried to explain that all the playing and stories and making stuff was also a form of learning. I think I had, by way of Robert Winston accidentally given her the impression that she would be proficient at reading and maths now that she was already 4 years old and well into her first month of school!
Because we live just across the road I have to admit that I have already quickly pulled yesterday’s jeans on and put my jacket on over my pyjama top to take her to school. For the first few weeks A’s dad and I tried to keep up an element of decency in our attire, but due to the proximity we knew there was always a strong likelihood of going to school in our pyjamas, it was just a surprise how soon. As soon as I open the front door, I see other parents cycle past me smiling always wearing the appropriate rain gear. I’ve usually got the baby on my hip (who’s also got his jacket over his pyjamas) and wild non-brushed hair, but A has got clean clothes and teeth so I don’t mind.
Anouk cycles past me and I call out,
“Hi, I’ve got a question. P gave me this envelope for the class kitty, but I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do with it”
“Oh” she says “You just put €25 in it and pass it to the next parent on the list, it was all explained on parents evening”
This was like a heavy clout and I feel my face drop the smile from my face. SHIT SHIT, parents evening! It was last Wednesday and I forgot it! How could this happen? My first parents evening! Now I vaguely remember reading all the important emails with the attachments that we got in the first week, but what the hell! I didn’t write it down and now we look like negligent fools! This is how I feel at that moment. Deeply ashamed. And mortified. Maybe this sounds a bit extreme but I was trying so hard! I apologise to the teacher and make an excuse about being a scatterbrain because of the baby keeping me up all through the night. This is actually very true. I’ve been up at least 4 times a night for the past week, but it feels like a cop-out, we’ve all had babies that’s why we’re here and looking around I don’t see any other parents in their pyjamas forgetting parents evening.
A is blissfully unaware of my failures, she greets the teacher cheerfully, sits between her 2 new best friends, waves goodbye and turns back to the circle eager to start learning!