Secondary school Christmas

The Christmas build-up at secondary school is fairly low-key. The main focus seems to be on exams rather than mince pies.


Christmas is looming fast and it’s hard to focus on it when there is so much else happening and when things are so awful for so many. When you have children at secondary school it’s easy to forget about it anyway because nothing much happens, unless no-one is telling me about it. Daughter three is steeped in A Level mocks misery, looking wildly for distractions and hoping the teachers will go on strike soon. She’s even taken to watching the football. Every time I go into her room, she seems to be online to at least two of her friends – all of whom seem to be lying in bed ‘working’ while occasionally commenting on something. It feels like a bit of a comfort blanket – having someone else in the room with you while you revise because they often don’t speak to each other at all. It’s a strange thing and I’m not sure how much it helps with focus, but I didn’t grow up in the techno age so what do I know? Maybe this will be how we all work in the future.

Only son’s overriding concern is about his image. He won’t wear a coat because he thinks it makes him look bad. Therefore he is constantly sneezing. My husband gets very concerned, mainly because in Barcelona – where he’s from – they put the full hat, scarf and glove combo on as soon as the temperature falls below 12 degrees. I think there is a Christmas fair at school, but no-one in our family has ever wanted to go. There may also be a Christmas concert or play, but again no-one mentions it. They don’t want to spend any more time in school than is absolutely necessary.

The good news is that that means no costume-making, no baking, no last minute buying of cards for the class or presents for the teachers on the part of parents. I feel a bit bad for the secondary school teachers, but my sister, who works in a primary school, says they just get inundated with chocolate they can’t eat.

The other thing is that everyone is worried about Strep A. We had an email from school this week. It doesn’t help that the symptoms are the ones kids get all the time and that there seems to be more illness this year. Only son is on 89% attendance which usually triggers alarm bells and multiple letters. Indeed he is off today with a high temperature which could be Strep A, Covid or anything really. I’ve asked him about rashes, but I’m not sure he has checked extensively.

Rashes are so common in small children that I recall leafing through the BMA book of kids’ illnesses and finding a section on ‘non-specific rashes’ which basically covers just about anything. In most cases said book, which was supposed to help you diagnose your own child and reassure you, seemed to end up by saying in capitals SEEK A DOCTOR URGENTLY!! for every ailment.

Only son had scarlet fever a few years ago. It was nasty. The rash extended all over his body and we had to spend several hours in A & E in the early hours with a very bored and tired daughter three in tow. Once kids get older you tend to forget all those times in A & E or panicking about sudden temperature spikes and the like. That’s not because you are worrying any less, though. It’s just that you are worrying about a wider range of things.

It’s a rollercoaster ride being a parent. I was talking to daughter three the other day about childcare, parental leave, women’s careers, etc. It didn’t sound very upbeat. I could see she was mentally putting a big cross next to parenthood on her future planning list. “But it’s the best thing I ever did,” I told her. She looked askance. It’s chaotic, it isn’t properly supported, it’s challenging in the extreme, it’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s absolutely joyful and the love illuminates your whole life. We just need to make it easier.

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