Monday, April 29, 2013

The class rep

I am the class rep for my daughter's reception class at school. Technically speaking I am half the class rep, as I share the role with another mother, who happens to be a friend of mine. We agreed to do it together because no one else wanted the job, and like me she has two small kids and little enough time to have an uninterrupted toilet visit let alone time to dedicate to an admin job of this kind.

The rep the previous year provided very big shoes to fill.  She'd get the weekly newsletter we all got on a Friday afternoon, extract the relevant bits and email us later that evening. She'd send us online calendars which allowed us to specify a preference for a mothers dinner date and it would then collate the popular choice. Emails were sent the day before reminding us if our children were meant to take things into school, or class trips, and we were effectively shaped into a highly efficient summer fair, book fair, winter fair, bake sale, and fund raising machine. You see a lot of women like this in the school -  high functioning professionals that give up their careers for a few years to raise their children and who are effectively intellectually frustrated.  They approach things like being a class rep as though they are orchestrating a hostile takeover, all the while elegantly attired.

I genuinely appreciated her for it, because in the nursery the year before, I was one of those mothers that had no idea what the hell was going on most of the time. I had a new baby and a toddler, so I might have been forgiven for that, but it didn't look very good. I'd always turn up having missed the boat about something while everyone looked at me a little pityingly. While the other children were given beautifully made sandwiches for their walking home snack, my daughter often got a Penguin. She didn't actually like sandwiches  but they didn't know that. I felt like that kid that is constantly asking other kids to copy their homework, or for spare PE kit because they've forgotten theirs at home and don't want detention.

MUFTI day - the phrase has a painful association for me. It's a day at the school - once a year, where the children get to wear non uniform and donate two quid to charity. Back in nursery our class rep wasn't quite as, well, efficient at reminding people about things as the aforementioned high functioning rep was. For starters I had no idea what MUFTI day was, and hadn't read the newsletter, so I didn't know when it was either. And to be fair to the rep, she had older children, assumed everyone read the newsletter, and didn't feel the need to spoon feed us. So on the fateful day, I'd had a terrible night with the baby, and I asked my cleaner to walk my daughter in to school. That afternoon, upon waiting in line to collect her, I began to get an increasingly sinking feeling, as miniature princesses, cowboys, and knights began emerging from the nursery (beaming) into their mother's waiting embrace. And then my little girl came out wearing school uniform; a small, solitary, distraught figure, who subsequently fell apart in my arms. A genuinely even tempered and happy little girl most of the time, she was totally distraught. At the time dressing up as a princess was the most special wonderful thing in her world, and here was this one day where she not only had license to dress up as one but to spend an entire morning in the company of other princesses! And her mother had messed up. 

The following year I kept a frantic eye out for information or mention of when MUFTI day was, double checked it with the teacher, triple checked it with the class rep and the other mothers, and then marked it in bold letters in my diary and on the calendar in the kitchen. There is no way in hell I was going to forget it. This time my daughter chose to wear something low key like a pair of jeans, a jumper, and trainers. But at least she wasn't in school uniform. As part of my class rep duty this year, I reminded the mothers at several different intervals - a kind of MUFTI day count down. I felt like, even if I did nothing else, I had fulfilled my duty as a good rep.

Another job of the class rep is to liaise on behalf of the parents with the head of the department and the headmistress. These meetings occur once a term and are fairly relaxed. We are invited to propose items for the agenda, and I ask mothers to email me any of their questions or concerns. It's things like: The toilets are dirty and smell (always). Why is the (albeit handsome) French teacher not a native French speaker? My French speaking child finds his pronunciation humorous. Why don't our children have napkins at lunch time, my son is using his sleeves? That sort of thing.

Regarding the toilets the answer is always the same: Small kids, especially small boys, tend to miss the target and unless you have a cleaner in the toilet 24/7, it is going to smell of urine. In fact I have a vivid unpleasant olfactory memory of my own school toilets even all these years later.

At the last meeting one mother vociferously stated her opposition to pudding on the lunch menu and biscuits as snacks, and suggested these be removed in favour of more healthy options. My response didn't go down too well: "What are you kidding me?! It's the one time in your life you can eat pudding and not worry about it. Why would you want to take it off the menu?!" The headmistress sensibly interjected that the children were not permitted pudding unless they had eaten their lunch first, and that they also had the option of fruit if they so chose. She thought it was good to promote the concept of choice from a young age, and that children should be given the ability to exercise this and to self regulate. Yeah, I thought, as I nodded my head - that's what I was going to say. But I could tell the Sweet Nazi, as I unkindly mentally labelled her, had my number, and likewise my sugar loving face burnt into her alfalfa eating mind for all of eternity.

As luck would have it, this women, whom I had never seen or noticed until this meeting, suddenly began appearing everywhere. A couple of days after the meeting, I almost collied with her outside of the school as I was in the process of magnanimously handing out chocolate eggs to some of the children who were coming back to my house for a play date. The expression on her face undoubtedly read: 'Yup, just as I thought - the Pied Piper of rotting teeth and emerging fat cells.' I walked home feeling sheepish.

I am presently planning my son's 3rd birthday party. Fortunately he is consistent in his tastes. Last year it was pirates, specifically 'Jake and the Neverland Pirates', this year it's robots, space rangers (specifically 'Buzz Lightyear'), and rockets. At three my daughter thought she liked 'Ben 10' even though she had never seen a single episode of it. It's a complicated story but she had a little friend called Ben, whom she adored. And one day in the store she saw a book with 'Ben 10' on the cover and excitedly exclaimed, "Look it's Ben!" And in all fairness to her, it was a rather uncanny likeness. From that moment on 'Ben 10' was her friend Ben. I could see some of the other nursery mothers thought I actually let her watch the programme because she talked about it all the time. They were probably thinking: 'OK, so always late, has no idea what the hell is going on, traumatised her child my missing MUFTI day, AND allows her to watch totally age inappropriate TV.'

Anyway, so she wanted a 'Ben 10' theme for her 3rd birthday, but then she also wanted dinosaurs. It really threw me - what to do, what to do? It genuinely messed with my desire to have an integrated matchy matchy sort of theme. I blame it on years of working on Proctor and Gamble advertising. In the end I landed up going for both  - and alternated table settings with either 'Ben 10' tableware or dinosaur ones - likewise with the balloons. Party bags had a similar assortment of things, and the entertainer was a conservationist chap who showed off his collection of lizards, snakes and spiders.

For her birthday presents she asked for something called 'The Tower of Doom' and a 'Blue Dragon' - both featured in a kids shop catalogue she enjoyed browsing while she used her potty. So I, despite instinctively thinking these things may well be frightening for a tiny just on three-year-old girl, once again indulged my daughter's eccentric tastes and ordered them. The blue dragon (an automated remote controlled creature who's eyes glowed red as it menacingly lumbered forwards, while producing a blood curdling screech) had to be banished into the deepest recesses of the garage because she was terrified of it.  I think it was then that it occurred to me that the Temple of Doom (with its two headed creatures and knights) might be similarly received, and it never got presented. It remains unopened in the garage and I think my son may well be getting it for his birthday this year.

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