I had a very bad first Monday back from October half term – Mondays are always long days, and this was the first back after the clocks change, the first school run for a week, and we have swimming after school on a Monday – all perfectly set up to be a day of maximum stress for me.
We’d had an idyllic half term in Norfolk and Suffolk – nearly all sunny, just one wet day – and the fresh air, sunlight and time away from the city all badly needed.
The autumn term is definitely the longest slog of the year for me – another mum recently argued (good-naturedly) that she thought half term was too disruptive when children were just settling in to the school routine, she thought they should have an extra week in summer or Easter and lose autumn half term.
Hah! I responded that for me, October was the last chance for us to get a good chunk of daylight and time outdoors until probably March – I couldn’t get through to December without it. And bearing in mind February half term is often disrupted by illness and Easter often a washout – October has become the one reliable short break of the year. The idea that disruption to childrens’ learning should take priority over their access to the outdoors, I just can’t get on board with.
Anyway, back to Monday. We’d come home on Saturday, I had to work on Sunday and be prepared for a big work event happening midweek that still wasn’t quite ironed out. Monday morning spent chasing up all the small tasks that hadn’t been done while I was away, and a few frantic phone calls still to do.
I could have said, let’s not do swimming. Let’s write it off for one week. But I try not to do that. Lessons get missed often enough with holidays and illness, why skip it just because you’re busy and tired? So off we went, via the school office to deliver a message which added 10 minutes, pausing on the walk so I could make a phone call which needed to be done at that moment – we ran late, and made it into the pool just as lessons began.
Now, two children swimming on the same day means two bags and two big puffy new winter coats and way too many things to carry. Plus PE kit as it was PE on a Monday too (thankfully, since been switched to another day). I did on this occasion have a pound, so rather than lug the bags all upstairs to the viewing area, I threw it into a locker, feeling smug that I had at least got one part of the day right. (You can tell this is going to all fall apart horribly, right?)
Lessons over, I retrieved two children and got them dried and dressed with the usual banshee levels of screaming at them. Left changing rooms still with huge puffy coats under my arm (of course it’s hot as an oven in there), and in manoeuvring the door open to let the little one out, smacked the big one in the face with my elbow. Argh.
Sat down in the foyer comforting her (she bravely saying ‘I knew you didn’t mean to do it, Mummy’), I then began to sort out coats and bags for the walk home. Then realised, oh crap, no school jumper.
New school jumper could easily be bought the next day, you might think – but this one had the new and very proudly worn School Councillor badge – which she’d already been told the school would not replace if lost. We went back to the changing room. We went back to lost property. No jumper.
I felt terrible. My errands and phone calls had made us late for swimming, which had led to the rush in the changing room, which had led to me missing the jumper when piling everything into a locker. One of those horrible bleak moments where you question everything you’ve achieved as a parent and conclude that frankly you don’t come up to scratch.
She had been so proud of that badge, and we so proud of her – and I hadn’t taken care of something that mattered to her, one of my golden personal rules always being to take good care of others property, as I still remember the bitterness of favourite mugs being broken at my student flat (note for future self – don’t let kids take their favourite mug to uni in the first place, dumbass)..
Anyway – we went our sorry way home, but with a glimmer of hope – the jumper hadn’t been handed in to the lost property, so perhaps another parent had seen the name tag and was going to drop it to school instead. It’s what I would do (and have done in the past), so fingers crossed.
Next day after school, we tried the lost property box – and there it was, right on top, with the badge still there. There’s you good jumper karma and your happy ending to a bad Monday.
But it would be nothing without a ‘what have we learnt?’ moment – I realised how much times had changed: before, all I had to think about was getting everyone home from swimming in one piece, dry and warm and fed and to bed. Now, I was half distracted by work, and lost my focus.
Stuff happens, stuff gets lost – I’ve always been a bad loser (in that sense); I’ve never lost a favourite toy, fortunately, but I still mourn the loss of little trinkets disappeared along the way, photo albums, momentos, the stuff which endless flat moves seem destined to relieve you of.
Even worse with kids stuff – I can’t bear lost jigsaw pieces, or families of dolls with one missing, or incomplete tea sets – I will tear the house apart to find a missing item, but I try not to get so wound up by these things. The badge, though, mattered because of what it represented to her – chosen by her classmates to be school councillor, how awesome is that? How fondly will she look back on that, years from now, and how sad would she be if she thought I was the sort of parent who didn’t care about a thing like that?
Some things are worth hanging on to, after all.