The School Word

Louise Emma Clarke on the dreaded school talk


My first baby was only a few weeks old when the word ‘school’ was first thrown in my direction. Giddy with the tired, but happy thrill that a newborn brings, I laughed under my breath and put it to the back of my mind. My baby could barely open his own eyes, let alone recite his alphabet. There was plenty of time for that!

It was another year before I heard it mentioned again – and this time, everyone around me with similarly aged babies seemed to be deep in research, tours, and applications. One of my mummy friends revealed a thick folder she had started with schooling prospectuses, information, and application forms when I visited her house for a play date. I made an attempt to join in the conversation by nodding enthusiastically between mouthfuls of homemade lemon drizzle cake, whilst my mind drifted off to thoughts of where she might have got her very stylish sofa cushions. When I got home, I felt inspired to flip open my laptop and do some school research – before getting distracted by ideas for first birthday cakes. I chose one with dogs wagging their tails (it was cuter than it sounds) and forgot about the school stuff for another six months.

Crunch time came when a friend of mine tried to apply for a school and was told the waiting list was already full. I went into panic mode, making appointments to tour schools, filling out application forms, and visiting ATMs to withdraw the hefty registration fees. When three forms had been filled in, paid up, and dropped off, I breathed a sigh of relief and forgot about it all over again.

Fast-forward 12 months and email invitations to assessments started to roll in. This is where the real fun started. The first assessment we accepted was on a Saturday morning and we were told that parents wouldn’t be allowed to accompany the children into the classroom unless they were very distressed. This news prompted endless debate in our house about which parent should take him. If I stayed at home with his baby brother, he was likely to have a full-blown meltdown before they even reached the car park downstairs. But if I decided to take him and left his Dad at home, he may have that meltdown at the exact moment he was invited into the classroom, clinging to my legs and refusing to budge an inch. The former seemed the better option – and I sent them on their merry way, armed with lollipops as a tool for halting tantrums before they had a chance to rear their ugly head.

Then came the waiting game – and I laughed at myself for the nerves that fluttered around my stomach and kept my mobile phone glued to my side for news. He was two years old, after all. I had visions of a row of two year olds lined up in front of a panel, quizzing them on their colours, numbers, and alphabet. My son would likely be at the back, dancing on the tables and trying to climb out the windows.

Finally my phone pinged and a message from the husband: ‘Nose bleed on the way to the school. He was picking his nose.’

My worst fears had come true. I had visions of my son walking into his assessment covered in blood – my carefully chosen outfit now hidden under a horrifying red stain. People would gasp, parents would shield their children’s eyes, and my son would run about marking the tables, walls, and floor as a gruesome reminder of his attendance that day. The cleaners would wonder what on earth had happened in that classroom the next morning and rumours would quickly start circulating the school. Of course, an email would quickly follow to tell me he had been unsuccessful. I always knew picking his nose would be his downfall.

Thankfully my fears were abated by a follow-up message, reading: ‘No blood on his top. I cleaned up his face. He’s in there now and I’m waiting outside. No tears.’

An hour later, they returned home with my son’s T-shirt sported nothing but a single Silver Star sticker. I quizzed him about what he had done to deserve it, but he stomped around the room pretending to be a baby elephant, so I gave up and went back to stacking the dishwasher with plates.

We heard he’d got a place a few days later and quickly accepted – after all, I didn’t want to go through that ordeal again any time soon. Until my second baby reaches the age for assessments, anyway, when we will have to do it all over again. Next time, however, I will be accompanying him in the car to prevent fingers going anywhere near nostrils... it really was a very close call indeed.

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