leah mc­fall

I once wore the same thing nine school days in a row. No­body cared. I may have Rach to thank for that. She’s an armed forces of­fi­cer and col­lects her kids wear­ing a beret and fa­tigues.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS -

What a lot of chuff­ing non­sense, all this twad­dle about the school-gate! You must have seen one of these sto­ries; the ones claim­ing that women dress ex­tra care­fully in the morn­ings to com­pete with other moth­ers’ out­fits as they’re drop­ping off their kids. Not for pro­fes­sional rea­sons, or in an­tic­i­pa­tion of ex­er­cise, but as a pointed at­tempt to dom­i­nate the group by us­ing fash­ion.

These ar­ti­cles al­ways come with ex­am­ples, and the ex­am­ples al­ways in­clude the fol­low­ing peo­ple: Stella McCart­ney Elle Macpher­son Clau­dia Schif­fer Their chil­dren must all at­tend the same school, be­cause the ac­com­pa­ny­ing photograph al­ways fea­tures: Stella McCart­ney, wear­ing Stella McCart­ney, Elle Macpher­son in a cash­mere pon­cho, Clau­dia Schif­fer, with root-en­er­gised hair and a Birkin.

I feel the need to de­con­struct the phe­nom­e­non of school-gate dress­ing be­cause I, too, dress each morn­ing and I, too, de­liver my child to the school gate. I don’t dress specif­i­cally for the school gate, I have to ad­mit, be­cause school drop-off takes about 90 sec­onds and no­body in their right mind dresses for 90 sec­onds of any­thing (that said, many peo­ple un­dress for 90 sec­onds of some­thing, but that’s an en­tirely dif­fer­ent kind of col­umn for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent kind of magazine).

I can re­port that at my daugh­ter’s school, the drop-off is not a run­way. The pick-up is as far from com­pet­i­tive as you can imag­ine. In fact, for me, school pick-up is like a ther­apy ses­sion. It’s like I’m a stray calf, re­turn­ing to my pod. I might as well hear whale song; it to­tally chills me out. This is be­cause in our play­ground, no­body gives a fat rat’s what I’m wear­ing and nei­ther do I.

I once wore the same thing nine school days in a row. No­body cared. I may have Rach to thank for this. Rach, not her real name, has ram­bunc­tious and friendly boys. She is also a ranked of­fi­cer in the armed forces and reg­u­larly col­lects the kids wear­ing a beret and fa­tigues. For Rach, cam­ou­flage is big this sea­son, and will be next sea­son too. I can’t tell you how lib­er­at­ing this is for the rest of us.

My kindy run is very sim­i­lar. Our kindy com­mu­nity is so ac­cept­ing that I feel un­der no pres­sure to dress well, or to re­move mas­cara from the day be­fore. The chil­dren don’t care; many are in an­i­mal one­sies. Most of the par­ents are wear­ing ba­bies. Some of the par­ents are wear­ing break­fast. Who cares? In­ci­den­tally, I think kindy must be one of the most joy­ful places on Earth. With­out ex­cep­tion the chil­dren are sweet-faced and de­light­ful. The teach­ers are en­tirely fo­cused on ev­ery­one’s safety and well­be­ing. Every­body is al­ways pleased to see you; every­body helps to tidy up.

There are so few places where chil­dren are whole­heart­edly wel­comed like this, that I find it un­bear­ably touch­ing. I’m of­ten on the brink of tears at kindy but luck­ily for me, my mas­cara al­ready ran.)

If there was go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive dress­ing, you’d think our school would be ideal. After all, it’s the kind of sub­urb where most peo­ple have a toy dog and tas­selled cur­tains. But for some rea­son it hasn’t caught on.

This could be be­cause it’s Welling­ton, the town where do­ing your hair is a waste of time. There are very few glam­ourati in this town. Our First Lady, Mary English, is a GP. As we speak she’s prob­a­bly wear­ing la­tex gloves and un­block­ing some­one’s saliva gland. If she doesn’t have time for com­pet­i­tive dress­ing, none of us do.

In fact, Mary English was briefly a locum in my lo­cal clinic. When over­seas, I can cite her in a truth­ful ex­am­ple. “I love New Zealand,” I might say. “It’s such a vil­lage, and you can talk eas­ily to any­one. I, per­son­ally, have peed into a cup for the wife of the Prime Min­is­ter.”

Or maybe it’s mid­dle-age. You know, you hit your 40s and you re­ally don’t have to try as hard any more.

Once upon a time you were all lip­stick and kit­ten heels. Now you’re all eye-cream and Hush Pup­pies. Kick off your loafers and show the other mums your bunions; watch them re­lax into re­lief. You’ve just re­leased them from the ham­ster wheel, that end­less spin of keep­ing up ap­pear­ances. Some­body or­der a pizza, and let’s call the whole thing off.

Can some­body tell Stella? Can some­body tell Elle?

“You hit your 40s and don’t have to try as hard. Once you were all lip­stick and kit­ten heels. Now you’re all eye cream and Hush Pup­pies.”

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