School paranoia

The day has finally come. Toddler daughter has been awaiting her birthday with acute anxiety ever since bonkers daughter’s party in March. Every day she has been asking if it is today. On Saturday night, the night before her party, she came into our bed at 5am and whispered in my ear urgently: “Is it my party now, mummy?” I half opened an eye and assured her that I was in no mood to party at that precise moment. Although she invited some friends from nursery, she was not too bothered whether they came or not. The real point of the party was “sweeties”. She also wanted a High School Musical cake which she had spotted in Sainsbury’s. Luckily, she forgot this on the day and was very impressed by my improvised version – the classic chocolate sponge with Betty Crocker icing and a picture from HSM cut out from a book and sprinkled with sprinkles.

I had planned the whole affair while driving home from work, jotting down notes on post-its at every traffic jam – if I don’t write it down, it’s toast within five minutes. Toddler one was most insistent that the party games should include piggy in the middle so we managed to do it with multiple piggies because of the numbers at the party. She also, naturally, wanted something called the chocolate game, and pass the parcel. I created a long list of games in the knowledge that children always tear through them at a rate of knots and if you run out of activities, before you know it they are on the loose in your house inventing their own “games”, which generally seem to feature bouncing on the sofa.

It was very hot and bonkers daughter had been unwell the day before. She had had a cough last week, but on Saturday in Asda while getting the party gear she suddenly developed a high fever and a horrible rash all over her legs. I took her to the Asda chemist who recommended the nearest walk-in centre. It was busy. It was also lunchtime. We spent over an hour waiting, with goth girl complaining loudly about being starved to death by her parents. Apparently it is some viral thing and the rash is one of those ‘non-specific’ variety which give parents the collywobbles, but are harmless. During the party, however, goth girl complained of acute headaches. I think it was the heat, but it could be the viral thing. How can you tell??

Anyway, toddler girl’s real birthday is on Tuesday and she has got a HSM extravaganza of presents. At her party, we got on to the old subject of schools: secondary schools. Several people I know have suddenly started going regularly to mass to get their children into the so-called best secondary schools in the area. I haven’t had to think about it yet, but already I’m feeling a bit worn down by all the politicking. I really think some parents drive themselves into a paranoia about schools and getting ahead. The problem is that this paranoia feeds off itself and you feel the pressure to join in in some way or otherwise to opt out entirely, which is what I am feeling at the moment.

Having been through the trauma of transferring goth girl to a different primary school – she still misses her old school a lot. So do I: it was fantastic – I think my main concern is that she is happy where she is and that she is not bullied or lonely. I don’t want her to feel pressured to overachieve. Before I had children going to school seemed such a natural part of life. Now it seems like some sort of political trench warfare. I’m hearing a lot too about friends who are being “restructured” out of jobs. It seems in the current climate that bad employers can get away with just about anything. I wonder whether it is all worth it anyway, whether our priorities are all wrong and whether at the root of all this jostling for schools and jobs is just competition and greed and survival of the fittest. On top of that is climate change and horrendous events like the cyclone in Burma. You can be washed away in an instant. I would hate to waste time worrying about unimportant things.





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