Back to school - the reality
Here's what it's really like getting your children ready for the new school year.
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Even though I last went to school in the Dark Ages, back to school advertisements still make me break out in a cold sweat. Despite their cheerful tone, their excited exclamation points, and their smiley, happy models, they do nothing for me but to evoke that end-of-holiday-churny-tummy feeling.

Back to school adverts are everywhere right now. They tell me I can save on stationery, make healthy school lunches, and survive school mornings, as long as I click here or produce my credit card there. Basically, I can be supermom, and my kids can set off for their first day of school uber-prepared with shiny new haircuts, stationery that costs next to nothing, and a healthy glow.

My view on the back to school period is less optimistic than those adverts and, I think, a tad more realistic. Here’s what usually happens in our house:

October

With three kids in various stages of their schooling, I receive six letters and forms, telling me to deposit the equivalent of my life savings into the school and textbook publisher’s bank accounts. After breathing into a paper bag, I stow the forms safely away, awaiting my November salary bonus.

Beginning of December

One night early in December, I leap out of bed, the sick realisation having hit me that I’m about to miss the deadline for depositing my life savings in exchange for my kids’ work- and textbooks. I spend an hour finding the safely stowed away forms, fill them in, fight with online banking for another hour, and click “pay”. Phew.

End of December

The Christmas season is over and my bank account is sad. I trudge to the shops to buy stationery. Back to school savings adverts shout at me from all corners of the store. My kids and I argue in the aisles over whether a half a pencil is enough to get them through another term. I grudgingly swipe my debit card and hand over way too much money for items that I’m sure will end their lives at the bottom of school bags and under beds, but the kids are happy, so...

The kids try on their school uniforms and I realise that they’ve gone and grown without my permission. The shorts are too short, the shirts are too tight, and it looks as though they’ve borrowed the shoes from someone five years younger than them. How is it that five weeks have made such a difference?

I search in vain for a second hand outlet that stocks school uniforms. Defeated, we make a trip to the school uniform shop to make my bank account even sadder.

I cover books until my fingers are bleeding and my brain oozes out of my ears. I triumphantly complete book number 35 when Kid3 brings out some textbooks he’d forgotten to tell me about. We’ve run out of plastic and sellotape. I weep into my wine.

Beginning of January

I send a panicked message to my closest friend, who, thank my stars, has a child at the same school as Kid1. I’ve realised I’m going back to work and the only time his textbooks can be collected from the school is between the hours of stupid and stupider (work hours, to be precise). She calms me down to a mild panic by telling me she’ll fetch the textbooks for both our kids.

Day before school

I iron the newly purchased school uniforms and tell the kids to wash their newly cut hair and pack their bags. We pack fairly healthy lunches and all go to bed early with that end-of-holiday-churny-tummy feeling.

As I fall asleep, I fantasise about kicking back to school advertisers in the shins.

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