A Mixed Bag of Emotions

January is a month of mixed emotion for many mothers. After more than a month of quality time with your kids, the day draws near where your precious bundles of joy will be returned to school and your life will return to the semi-childless routine of the school term.

But before this can happen there are certain tasks to be completed. First, buying school stationary – what a treat. Every retailer worth their salt is running a back to school promotion, so the hardest decision is who to choose to buy from. Except that is definitely not the hardest decision. There are several.

Here are just a few examples of the things running through a mom’s head whilst standing in stationary aisle; “Should I buy my toddler left handed or right handed safety scissors? She could turn out to be either, I will just buy both”, or; “Do I spend R200 on a pack of 8 Sharpies or do I just get my eleven-year-old a pack of 8 Parrot ones for R60?

I guess the real question is, do I want to ruin her life or not?”, and “Do I need to get the seventeen-year-old blue pens or black pens? I can’t remember which are stipulated by the examining board for when he rights his prelims.

Second, is the uniform acquisition. For those of you lucky moms whose kids attend schools that only require Woolworths generic uniforms, you don’t know what fun you have missed out on. For the other moms whose schools require a full coordinated ensemble, I feel for you.

Also, why is the seventeen-year-old
not buying his own darn pens?

There are two stores in the whole of Johannesburg that sell school uniforms for all the private schools in the city – two. This requires a pilgrimage to one of these stores where you will spend at least a month’s school fees outfitting your kid with the right apparel from blazers to tracksuits to underpants (not even kidding).

The alternative to this is, the school uniform shop. But beware, often the majority of this shop’s stock is second-hand and while you may save pumpkin’s university tuition by buying from here, this may be unacceptable to pumpkin’s social etiquette.

I have observed three types of moms in these instances. One type is the mom who’s first child has just recently entered primary or high school, who sees her little boy come out the changing room in his new big boy uniform and immediately bursts into tears at how quickly it’s all gone by and how he is not her little baby anymore.

The other is the mom who has done this a few times and resents the fact that the school keeps updating its uniform so not only can her child not reuse it a year later but her other children cannot wear hand-me-downs. Her tears are tears of rage at the fact that she has to fork out her hard earned cash every year for a brown and green uniform that her child detests wearing and who she will have to listen to complain about said uniform on a weekly basis.

The third, is the mom who believes in hardship building character and she also knows that money doesn’t grow on trees. She buys her kids’ school uniforms from the second-hand uniform shop. So, what if it’s a little too big, she’ll grow into it. This mom’s tears are tears of guilt and will come when she is alone in her bathroom at home.

Wow, that got deep, quick. Moving swiftly along.

It also strikes me as a cruel coincidence of timing that the month all of this occurs within, paying school fees, buying stationary and investing in school uniforms, is also the month that most South Africans refer to as Januworry.

Why is it called this? Because we are all so broke after spending our whole December and early January paycheck on our family holiday (another story for another blog post – see previous post) that all we do is worry about where we are going to get the money to pay for everything this month.

This is where the
Americans got it right.

This is where the Americans got it right. Their school year starts in the middle of the year, months away from the money madness of the festive season.

Finally, D-Day arrives and off you go to drop your kids at school. After more than a month of school holidays, you may have forgotten about the traffic, the school drop zone, the throng of late and flustered parents all trying to deliver their children to their designated areas. It won’t take long for the haunting memories to come rushing back.

For some of those parents this is their first drop-off, which adds an extra layer of trauma to the experience. Chances are high your child is going to fight being left at a strange place, under the care of a strange adult with a whole bunch of strange kids. Different kids have different reactions to this, some turn into feral cats and cling to car seat headrests, writhing out of your grasp just as you thought you had a hold on them.

Others cling to you like an octopus, requiring the teacher to peel them off of you, while you make a run for the gate. Others walk stoically to the classroom door, sniffling quietly and swiping away the tears. All of these and any others not mentioned are heartbreaking for the parent, as if we are shipping them off to prison, never to return.

In the younger grades – for example pre-school – there is an interesting interaction between the children, you can walk into a classroom of seemingly content and secure children laughing and playing but the minute the new-comer begins to cry the entire group dissolve into tears. Whether in sympathy or in recollection of their own abandonment, it is unclear Lunchboxes should be filled with healthy but delicious food stuffs – no sweets, no chips, no cold drinks, no white bread, no processed cheese, no, no, no. So, every morning (or night before) around the country there is a mom silently screaming into her pillow at the thought of what to put into her child’s lunch box.

While all of this sounds awful (and it is awful), what makes going back to school hardest is the mom guilty. Because as much as we have loved spending time with our kids, being there day and night for them, doing everything together, living in each other’s back pockets, we have a secret. What’s hard to admit is that our kids going back to school is not hard on us at all.

The first day back at school, is a day many moms look forward to.

Why? Because dropping you child at school, where they become someone else’s responsibility for several hours every day, is an enormous relief.