If you’re a working parent who’s filled with a mix of guilt and a trickle of regret that you can’t be there to greet your offspring at the school gates every day with a sunny smile and a small snack squashed about your person, STOP RIGHT THERE!
Here’s what I’ve learnt about pick up……
3.30 : THE ACTUAL PICK UP
Where picking up a small child from nursery was once a joyful event in which my children would hurtle towards me at Mo Farrar speed with outstretched arms and sticky lips waiting to be kissed, now they are at school the story is so very different.
On a good day I’m met with a smile before a hand is thrust in my direction wanting to know the specifications of the snack I’ve brought. On a bad day I’m met with scowls, surliness and a tirade of abuse. “That coat looks horrible”, “Why do you have to talk to the other mums?”, “Why can’t we go to the really expensive ice cream shop? / cake shop / and gorge on chocolate and overpriced cinnamon swirls?/….urggg….we hate you!” …“We hate school”….“We hate life”.
3.30pm : THE SNACK DISPERSAL
I assume our school is feeding our children. I assume this because they print a handily downloadable menu, (perused once by myself back in November 2014), and because my daughter once pointed excitedly at three strangers standing at our bus stop and exclaimed “Look, the school dinner ladies!” as if she’d spotted a rare breed of puffin.
However at 3.30pm the children emerging from the battered red door and spilling out onto the tarmac to form unruly lines, claim to be not just “starving” but on the verge of collapse.
Tempers are frayed and parents exasperated as grappling hands reach for hastily ripped open packets of Pom Bears and wrestle with the foil of Club biscuits.
Should you have the audacity to bring something healthy – an apple maybe, a couple of optimistic oatcakes perchance – be prepared to be met with a look of absolute disgust from your charge and be on the receiving end of a public dressing down.
3.34pm THE LOST ITEMS ARE IDENTIFIED
You may (or may not) have successfully managed to shunt your children to school wearing their correct uniforms and carrying their own bags but it would be downright foolish to expect the same items to be in place come pick up.
Coats have been casually left lying in corners of the playground like wounded beasts, trainers used for PE have disappeared or re-emerged in a different size, leading to you conclude they are infact not your child’s but belong to Felix in 3J. Meanwhile in a cruel twist of fate, forms that were supposed to be HANDED IN remain screwed up at the bottom of bags, slightly soggy thanks to a leaking water bottle at the bottom.
3.38: THE BICKERING BEGINS
Having successfully managed to be united with your charges at 3.30pm if you have more than one child expect the first round of gentle bickering to hit at around 3.38 rising to full force confrontation at 3.40pm.
You will normally be within earshot of the school having only managed to navigate 50 meters along a pavement before tales of injustice spew out, sibling rivalry rears its angry head and your children shout in loud voices how much they detest eachother. But no need to worry because as you raise your exasperated head, bite your lower lip and roll your eyes to the skies, you will notice your own scene of domestic discord being replicated 38 times over in the vicinity by small uniformed people harbouring similar anger and resentment issues.
3.45pm: THE JOURNEY HOME
A happy stroll along the streets? A chirpy car journey back to base in which you and your children chat merrily about the fun they’ve had and share the things they’ve learnt? Get hold of your expectation bar and lower it until it is skimming, limbo-like, just a few cm above the ground. Instead of hearing tales of an exciting foray into pastilles during art or watching Mr Dunn create a mini volcano in class, expect to hear whiney-voiced remonstrations of why it’s not fair because Isobel has got a new Emoji pencil case, Finn is allowed to stay up until 10pm and Miss Barratt is really mean because she told Fleur off for wearing nail varnish.
4pm: THE ETERNAL STRETCH UNTIL BEDTIME
Having arrived home utterly frazzled and vowing to book your children into as many after-school clubs as possible next term, (ukulele for beginners / hang-gliding for under 7s, whatever… come on.. they’ll LOVE it ), the long road before bedtime stretches into the distance like an endless parched Arizonan highway with only a couple of tumbleweeds seen blowing wearily on the horizon.
More culinary demands are likely to be squawked and more claims of starvation tossed your way.
Meanwhile moaney requests to switch on the television will be made and be met with, ‘For Godsake, NO! We’ve only just got in, think of something else to do!”
4.15pm: THE TELEVISION GOES ON
After more uprisings and a small flurry of physical violence because someone has gone in someone else’s room / moved an important piece of Darth Vader’s Lego head …. and an abstinence period of- ooh look at the clock – precisely TEN MINUTES, the television goes on.
Depending on the age of your child expect to hear the annoying strains of an upbeat theme tune or the irritating Jimmy Carr- like laughter of Stampy / enthusiastic monologue of Dan TDM reverberating around the room as the children stare trance- like at the screen to marvel, slack-jawed as multi-millionaire 25-year-old strangers fashion empires from breeze blocks and raise pigs next to swimming pools.
5pm: UPRISING #43 OF THE DAY
A scuffle breaks out on the sofa and shrieks of distress reach your ears as you enter the room to find your children embroiled in a wrestle over the remote control. The TV is angrily switched off and irate instructions are issued to go forth and play with Lego, get out the sticker book you got for your birthday, do a self-portrait in Hama beads, make a human-being out of loom bands, do SOMETHING ELSE, DO ANYTHING ELSE, DO ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T INVOLVE PUNCHING, DOOR SLAMMING, FIGHTING, MOANING, WRECKING.
6pm. TEA TIME
You present your children with something you’ve optimistically rustled up and wait for helpful feedback like, ‘Uurghh…we hate this!” / “ Why have you put cheese on top?”/ “We had this at school today”/ “I’m not hungry” (because I’ve secretly eaten two Breakaways that I scavenged while you were upstairs putting the washing away and have tossed the screwed-up wrappers under the sofa for you to find in three weeks’ time). You’re welcome.
7PM: I’M HOME!
Your partner arrives home and asks helpful things like: What there is for dinner, why the cheese is in the fridge without it’s cellophane wrapper, why there are 25,000 Match Attack cards scattered over the hallway presenting a serious skid hazard and whether you’ve sorted the car’s overdue MOT ???
You pretend you can’t hear and decide your local cinema is due a visit. An urgent visit. Even if none of your mates are free and you have to go by yourself. Even if it’s something starring Sylvester Stallone.
So you see it’s not all cheery smiles, happy exchanges, books before bedtime and engaging play-time. Some of us may have organised our working lives so that we can be there to pick up our offspring but occasionally SOME of us might just actually fantasise about sitting at a desk 5km away, being pressed up against someone’s sweaty armpit on the tube listening to our choice of music on Spotify or being required to stay late at the office to work on a very important project.
Pick-up guilt because you can’t be there? Pick-up exasperation because you ARE there?
The grass is always greener – just remember the grass can be littered with mole hills, dog shit and discarded Breakaway wrappers.