Lind­say Woods

‘We are nav­i­gat­ing the bat­tle­ground that is pri­mary school

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Content - Aida Austin is away

My first ex­pe­ri­ence of com­pet­i­tive par­ent­ing oc­curred at an al­to­gether in­nocu­ous din­ner party. As fairly new par­ents, we were pumped for a night of stim­u­lat­ing adult con­ver­sa­tion which did not re­volve around our chil­dren’s bowel move­ments or the ad­ven­tures of an ob­nox­ious cartoon pig. Af­ter just one sip of syrupy good­ness, it be­came abun­dantly clear that there was just one topic of merit up for dis­cus­sion for the du­ra­tion of the evening: our off­spring. We made it through the starters rel­a­tively un­scathed; some gen­eral en­quiries as to our chil­dren’s gen­der (boyand girl), ages (two years and two months re­spec­tively) and a text mes­sage from my hus­band sat di­rectly next to me ask­ing, “Do you think any of them watch Game of Thrones?” By the time the main course was served, things had taken a rather more se­ri­ous turn. Words like “ed­u­ca­tion” and “as­pi­ra­tions” were be­ing thrown into the pot quicker than car keys at a “Swingers of ’98” re­union. So, my­self and my hus­band, poured our­selves an­other large one, kept our heads dow­nand threw in some head-nods at ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­vals. This seemed to be prov­ing ef­fec­tive… un­til we re­alised that the con­ver­sa­tion had stalled. We raised our heads to find Chief Tiger Mother star­ing di­rectly at us. Ex­pec­tantly. It ap­peared they had bar­relled through the topic of schools and the cur­rent line of ques­tion­ing in­volved some­thing along the lines of “What were our wishes for them as they got older?” I turned to my hus­band and said, “That they don’t end up in jail, am I right?!” We weren’t asked back again.

Fast for­ward a few years and we are nav­i­gat­ing the bat­tle­ground that is Pri­mary School. Did you ever stop to think why there is so much read­ing ma­te­rial avail­able on “How to…” or “What to ex­pect…” in re­la­tion to a baby or tod­dler yet scant tomes of wis­dom re the school years? The rea­son is sim­ple: noth­ing will pre­pare you. Noth­ing. You can no longer co­coon your­self within the cosy haze of the tod­dler years: you must breach the trenches into un­char­tered ter­ri­tory. This is Com­pet­i­tive Par­ent­ing mecca and the Al­pha Mother is Queen of all that she sur­veys. Within mere min­utes of the school term be­gin­ning, one or sev­eral of the CPs (Com­pet­i­tive Par­ents) will in­vari­ably have an issue with how their lit­tle Formalde­hyde is ad­just­ing. Formalde­hyde is gen­er­ally the same child who will have taught all the oth­ers an ex­ten­sive vo­cab of swear words the pre­vi­ous year and how to punch some­one with­out leav­ing a bruise. CP will en­quire as to how your child is ad­just­ing, “Does he have any is­sues?” Lis­ten up, be­cause this is Les­son One in how to deal with a CP. Do not give them any in­for­ma­tion. They will use this to their ben­e­fit and theirs only to in­duce a mo­men­tous headache on the part of the already fraz­zled teacher who has the “plea­sure” of guid­ing Formalde­hyde. Your re­sponse to any en­quiries of this na­ture will be the same, “No. No is­sues at all.” You will use this re­sponse when they are ex­tolling their child’s virtues on the day school re­ports are re­ceived… “No. No is­sues at all.” For Fri­day spelling tests… “No. No is­sues at all.” School tours, Christ­mas plays, swim­ming lessons…. you see where I’m go­ing with this? And whilst this CP is per­sis­tent he/she is gen­er­ally out­wit­ted at ev­ery turn by the true ace of spades of the CP Pack… the “I’m just not that into all this com­pe­ti­tion non­sense...” This is the new Al­pha Mum. You will be eas­ily fooled by her laid­back, non­cha­lant guise. The first in­di­ca­tor that you are in­deed deal­ing with of­fi­cial leader of the CP’s is that they de­sist in speak­ing as soon as she opens her mouth. Her mantra of “Let them be chil­dren” rolls off her tongue which such ease, you are al­most con­vinced of her as­sur­ance that she does in­deed prac­tice what she preaches. Al­pha Mum has an iron clad sched­ule. Her chil­dren gen­er­ally have an ac­tiv­ity each day af­ter school. She will be the one to dis­cuss an ap­pro­pri­ate plan of ac­tion for her fel­low CP as how best to aid lit­tle Formalde­hyde. Said plan of ac­tion will be de­liv­ered in such a way as to make the other CP con­fi­dent that it was in fact she who hatched such a ge­nius course of ac­tion.

But af­ter all is said and done, know this, as you flop on the sofa ex­hausted, to watch Game of

Thrones and you take that first sip of the magic elixir which causes you to ex­hale con­tent­edly; some­where, an Al­pha Mum is sit­ting in a cor­ri­dor on an un­com­fort­able chair, lis­ten­ing to her off­spring evis­cer­ate “Clair de Lune”; and even though she will never ad­mit it, deep down we all know where she would rather be.

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