Back to School

It is reassuring how much support children get these days for first day nerves, but it’s not my 4-year old that I’m worried about. It’s me.

If a butterfly can cause a hurricane halfway across the world, then what the fuck did the collective parental sigh as children returned to school from the summer holidays finally ending cause? Having run out of activities since the last week of July, relief at the new school term could be heard from space. This morning, mothers and fathers, last seen rocking gently in a chair and mumbling along to Justin’s House, skip back to offices anticipating conversations that don’t start and end with ‘can you stop doing that’. Even Sue from accounts will be tolerated for the first few weeks. A quieter world beckons, with opportunity to enter newsagents without protracted discussions regarding buying pillow-sized packets of marshmallows, which unfailing end with the need for bereavement skills last required when Robbie left Take That.

This was all new to me. The last time I was involved with a first day at school I was wearing shorts and being driven in a VW Beetle when seat belts were an optional extra. It had vinyl seats, which heated to 100 degrees in the sun, making them impossible to sit on. You kind of hovered above the seat, clutching the handgrip, until your shadow cooled it to a temperature that didn’t involve 3rd degree burns. This was generally achieved a few minutes after arriving anywhere.

My father took the day off work to support me in taking my step into the larger world of primary education. Either that or he didn’t trust Mum to drive the Beetle. They both saw me off at the school gate, from which I ran in and didn’t look back. ‘Oh’, I guess they thought, not having properly considered Kent’s entertainment options from 9:01 on Monday morning.

Having been shown around schools as a parent, I was astounded at how things have moved on from the 70s, when leaving primary school with the ability to colour in straight lines and understanding the rules of egg and spoon races constituted adequate educational grounding. These days, there’s not only lessons involving the learning of stuff, but even lunch clubs appear to involve Greek algebra and 16th Century wind instruments.

There are a few things I learnt at school, like how to skip, how to choose academic subjects on the basis of which pretty girls had already signed up, and how to bake a Black Forest gateaux. I swear it’s that cake which my mother remains most proud of in terms of my achievments, but against such competition it’s little surprise. School was less an educational institution and more of a hub in which to swap Panini football stickers and showboat Casio scientific calculators with more buttons than a sewing jar, and as equally unlikely to ever get used.

This week will see the newest collection of parents wondering how they grew old enough to be outside the school gates, before Facebooking a picture of their darlings’ ‘first day’, and going home to cry into the child’s pillow while looking back on the past four years with the sort of soft-focus idealising that even Persil adverts might balk at. Attention will be made to identifying fellow parents who might also be burnt-out ravers worth making friends with, which like making friends too quickly during fresher’s week you may have the next seven years to regret.

It is reassuring how much support children get these days for first day nerves, but it’s not my 4-year old that I’m worried about. It’s me. Children are so keen to ‘seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before’, that they don’t look back. That’s left to the parents, who recalling their own childhood, too easily see what is being lost; the joy, the innocence, the secure environment that increasingly cannot be guaranteed as children develop. As the parent steps back and peers, teachers and Pokémon step in it breaks the heart in places hereto unknown. It’s the last day of your true influence as main carer, but you can at least buy as many marshmallows as you can carry in the newsagents.

Meanwhile, the children will be giggling, excited and nervous about putting their hands up, without any real idea as to the larger world they have just stepped into. They’ve probably never felt so old. I know I haven’t.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – –   and is a farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

This post was previously published on The Life Assistance Agency and is republished here with permission from the author.

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Photo credit: The Life Assistance Agency