Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 December 2014

I really should learn my back-to-school lessons

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

It was back to school this week for one very reluctant son and the welcome return to routine for one exhausted single mum.

Having spent the past eight weeks here at ‘Liberty Hall’ (as I jokingly call our youth-club-style humble abode) with an eclectic mix of teenagers and assorted hangers-on, keeping them amused, entertained, fed and watered while simultaneously attempting to run a household and a career, it feels like a blessed relief to be able to have the house to myself for a few hours and to hear myself think again.

Nevertheless, there are certain drawbacks to the start of a new school year that I always forget about until the last minute, which makes the last days of the holiday the most frantic of all. So, in keeping with this new era of discipline, I’ve decided to list them individually in the vain hope that it might help me to remember and be more prepared next time...

1) The mystery of the missing school uniform

Without fail every year at this time, the school uniform — or at least certain bits of it — have got inexplicably lost. This is such a regular annual occurrence that I’m beginning to suspect sabotage on a monumental scale. Where do all the ties, trousers, rugby shorts and PE kits go to, I wonder. Is there a super-massive black hole at the bottom of our laundry basket from which no school-related item can ever hope to return? Or is there a shallow grave somewhere in my back garden where a certain person buries them in the hope that it might buy more holiday time? Who knows, although the latter does seem more likely. But the result is a chaotic (and expensive) trolley dash every year on August Bank Holiday, which I never anticipate and for which I’m never prepared.

2) The ceremonial purchasing of new schoolbag, pencil case and myriad contents thereof

No matter how full and well-stocked last term’s case may be, the unwritten (but golden) rule is that everything must be thrown out and replaced with new equipment for day one of Autumn term. Don’t ask me why, but it has just always been that way. My son would sooner go to school in a pinafore dress than carry last season’s educational accessories. Maybe it’s all part of the rite-of-passage that boys go through as they change from kids to young men, but acquiring new kit is just as essential, time-consuming and almost as expensive as the hunt for the school uniform itself.

3) The book-backing blitzkrieg

As any parent knows, the first week of a new school term means just one thing: books. Piles and piles of books; flimsy exercise books and cumbersome text books; some new with pristine pages; some old and worn with dog-eared corners and ripped covers; in various different colours, shapes and sizes; but they all have one thing in common — they have to be backed by Monday.

So instead of luxuriating and relaxing in some well-earned free time with the kids back at school and normal duties and hours resumed, your future is sealed for the time being in sticky-backed plastic. Like some deranged and hyperactive Blue Peter presenter, you have your work cut out, quite literally, until the bell goes next Monday morning.

And, no matter how many times you’ve done this ritual, and no matter how many books you’ve covered (and it certainly feels like an Amazonian rainforest’s worth for me by now) you still can’t get the hang of it, can you? In my case, either an air bubble gets stuck, or a corner gets clumsily folded over, or, even worse, I get a strand of long hair accidentally stuck ex libris.

I suppose with Son #2 about to start his GCSEs, I’ve only got four more years of it ahead of me but I’m hoping that by next September someone somewhere will have invented a remote-controlled uniform detector; self-ironing shirts; auto-replenishing pencil cases and self-covering books.

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