My daughter starts school in the autumn. The admin has begun already.
It’s 9.20pm on a Monday and I’m trying to sign up for Cool Milk. If your children aren’t yet old enough for you to know what Cool Milk is, enjoy it while it lasts.
We have two children, aged 4.5 and 2.5, and our oldest is off to school in September. This month, my daughter has had her introductory stay-and-play sessions (where she seemed happy and at ease). And also this month, I’ve had my introduction to the world of school admin (where I seem, er, less happy and at ease).
Fellow mothers had warned me in advance about the frenzy of forms, bookings and home-made costumes that comes with starting school – and plenty of research shows that such parenting admin and “mental load” tasks still fall disproportionately to women. But I didn’t realise the admin would start even before the term did.
For example, tonight I need to: book my daughter’s wraparound sessions for the autumn, fill out a consent form about photos, sign up for Cool Milk, and read a new starters’ info pack. In reality, these are all quick tasks. But because I can’t do them until work and childcare are all done for the day, I have to do them during my tired and grumpy 9pm slump. You know the one I mean.
I start with the most important task – booking wraparound. The bookings for next term only opened this morning so I feel like I’m being pretty organised here. But when I log in lots of activities have already sold out. Art club? Long gone. Tennis? Not a chance.
I start to worry that my daughter will end up at cleaning-the-school-toilets club, or sweeping-the-playground club, or wherever else they bung the kids with hopeless parents. Luckily there’s a general free-play club called “Choices”, which sounds like a sort of overspill club, ie not anyone’s first Choice.
I try to tell myself that Choices will be where all the cool kids are, if having disorganised parents makes you cool (I suspect it doesn’t). When I text a friend whose daughter is going to the same school, she replies: “Tennis club had gone by 9.15am!” and a face-palm emoji.
“Where are the dads in all this?!” I hear you say. In our house, child-admin is one of my tasks, which I accept is a cliché of heterosexual couples. But my husband is busy with household tasks too – he does more cleaning than me and he’s organised all the renovation work on our “fixer-upper” home, which also involves intense levels of late-night admin. So I feel we have a balance that works for us, albeit one that requires constant revisions and some not-so-easy conversations about who does what.
But I also agree with this brilliant Financial Times column by Stephen Bush, who argues that schools should minimise “homework for parents”, in the form of World Book Day costumes and baking and the like, because in reality this work almost always falls to mothers. This is particularly hard for those who work long hours, or are on low incomes, or indeed both.
I can see that the admin I’m currently doing is necessary, but surely no one can say the same about a homemade Willy Wonka costume.
Back in the 9pm slump, I keep encountering tech glitches while trying to sign up for Cool Milk (a scheme that gives kids free/subsidised milk at primary school). I start to get in a stressed muddle about this, while a voice in my head keeps trying to remind me that my daughter doesn’t even like milk.
I guess the thing is: I don’t want my daughter to feel left out when she starts school, not even for a moment, just because I couldn’t sort myself out. I don’t want her to feel left out when everyone else is offered milk, or when some other kids talk about art club. I don’t want to let her down.
I finally give up and go to bed. Luckily, everything feels easier in the morning – Cool Milk’s admin team sort me out within minutes, and Choices club doesn’t sound so bad after a night’s sleep.
Most importantly, I know I’m doing my best.
** This blog is part of a series called The Chaos Train, a record of daily life as a working parent with pre-school children **