There are well documented little bits of advice, readily available and regularly offered to the mum with the child starting school for the first time. You will find them in newspaper articles, magazines and on the TV in the run up to September. Personally, the best piece of wisdom passed to me was to avoid the temptation to buy uniform a few sizes too big for them to grow into, it will probably not even last a term, let alone a year. A brilliant nugget of knowledge only known to those mums who have already started their journey.
I was also told not to not to arrive too early, linger too much at the gate on the first day, not to cry in front of my daughter even if she was bawling her eyes out and to have a support network waiting for me at home if this might be the case.
What no one tells you, what no one told me, and what I am only now finding out three years into my journey, is the dangers of joining the schools parent’s Facebook page.
Yeah sure, it’s the world we live in now, social media has replaced many face to face moments we used to have, it is the new way to brag, the new way to make digs at our closest friends. It is the new dating game and as I have found out, the new coffee morning for school mums. The parent’s Facebook page is where it’s at, the coffee might not be literal but the chat is. And with the level of courage being minimal, being a ‘keyboard warrior’ is a free for all, say what you want to whom you want minefield, not for the faint hearted but certainly for anyone who lacks the backbone to say what they want, face to face.
It starts well, it is pretty much a secret society and it is only from chatting to the right mum, usually one who has an older child in the school so therefore she is already in the club, that you get ‘the invite’. It is a sign of making it, acceptance, a nod to your belonging. It is the keys to the door and the reassuring pat on the back. And after that, then comes the realisation that you now hold the power, that all the other mums standing next to you outside the reception doors are totally oblivious to this new world. You can tell them about it, it is YOU who can now say ‘I’ll send you an invite’, you have jumped up a level already.
And as with all new clubs, its starts well, it is a place for reminders and requests. ‘Don’t forget its non-school uniform day on Friday’ and ‘has anyone come home with my Jimmy’s PE bag?’ You go in balls deep, as my husband so succinctly coins it, you answer every question, even if it’s just ‘no, we’ve not got Jimmy’s bag’. After weeks on liking posts and answering questions, you know it’s time. It’s time to write your own post. Your kid came home muttering something about money needing to be in for a school trip the next day. Immediate panic, it’s the first you’ve heard of this. What trip, what money?? And then you know its time. You know this is the moment, this is your moment. ‘Does anyone know if the money for the school trip needs to be in tomorrow?’ you ask nervously. If the letters could be smaller, they would be.
Then you wait. Ten minutes goes past and no one replies, not even a like. That’s it. You thought you’d made it but you were only a number, you are the Facebook equivalent of rent-a-crowd. There to boost numbers but not to have any input. Then PING. A notification. You have been answered, it’s a mum you don’t know and she’s nice to you. She says she thinks its next Friday, and tells you not to panic.
And there it is, you are in. You can now post willy nilly, you can join in with the masses on other posts knowing you have the endorsement of the rest of the gang. But don’t get too comfortable; with acceptance often comes a degree of disappointment. Without the shroud of the unknown we are often disenchanted. It’s usually nicer not to know what’s in the beautifully wrapped Christmas present under the tree from Aunt Maud, than realise it is an ornament of two dogs kissing under a lamppost which singlehandedly inspired the ‘neither use nor ornament’ saying.
Because now that the level of mystery is gone, now that you are a recognised profile picture and the need to pussy foot around you has gone, people become complacent and the Facebook gloves come off. For a Facebook mums page is actually nothing more than a home for the snidely, bitchy remarks that you cannot get away with saying in a civilised society. A page for reminders and support my arse. Social media is the excuse for an unrefined gang of bullies to go forth and judge. It is home to the passive aggressive. It is home to a select group of mums; often grouped together under the guise of the ‘PTA’, as if this alone gives them the platform to criticise.
And once you realise this, you start to see the gangs and the levels. There are a number of different areas in which they operate.
The ‘rules are rules’ brigade, showcased beautifully the other day when I put up a post about carrying my tiny puppy into the school, which some jobsworth had taken umbrage to and a reminder of the ‘no dogs in the playground rule’ was put in the newsletter. Replies to my sarcastic apology on the parents page, suggesting a puppy being carried in a few times surely was not the same as me riding a Rottweiler the size of a small horse through the gates, ranged from ‘there can be no exceptions’ to ‘dogs have never been allowed in’. I imagine a few keyboards were smashed as they realised they had a good post to comment on. I like to imagine them with smoke coming from their ears, frantically flicking through the ‘immovable school rules written in 1908, must never be flexed’ book for the correct dog clause (pah!). Husbands will get snapped at, kids ignored as they sink into an hours’ worth of judgement. Perhaps they text fellow PTA mum ‘have you seen the parents page!!!’ Then bang, up she pops, another one joins in.
As it goes, it wasn’t even aimed at me, there was an incident with another dog who had snapped at a mum. This just fuelled the ‘there must be one rule for everyone just to keep it black and white’ argument. I suggested as sensible adults, life doesn’t always have to be black and white to which there was uproar and I thought yes, now I see, to you life is one or the other, black or white, bad or good. There is no room for an in between, or colour. To look outside the box just muddies the waters. The health and safety brigade of the school playground, if you like.
Then there are the ‘your school needs YOU’ gang. A select group of mums who generally don’t work (and if they do, blimey do they let you know it CAN BE DONE!) who are constantly asking for help. With reading. With swimming. With walking to church. I am not sure, but I do believe if you are allowed to post on behalf of the masses asking for such help, you must first have gone to the same school of veiled, patronising, guilt spreading judgement that those before them have graduated from. (I believe you might find the odd doctors receptionist there, too).
‘Is anyone available to come and help with robot making this week, I’m in every morning all week as I have managed to move my work around/got care for my other children/put myself out more than you’ is a typical request. The more tolerant among us will say ‘sorry, I can’t, but thank you soooo much for being soooo much better than me at being a mum’ whilst the more cynical will just ignore this dig at our incompetence. Those that can help can’t simply say ‘yes I can help’, they have to tell us how much rearranging had to be done to make it possible. Prompting a lot of fluffing from the other helpers ‘thank you better mum, so good of you to shuffle your life accordingly, I know how busy you are.’ Just to really hammer it home how shit the rest of us are.
Such mutual back scratching is all in a day’s work for the jobsworth mum. I have a school of thought on this that might sound quite shocking, indeed if I said it on the post I would no doubt be blocked for the rest of my child’s school years. But school is my daughter’s world, it is not mine. I don’t want to be in her school all day, any more than she wants me in her school all day. Number one, I work. Number two, I have a toddler. When I’m not doing number one, I’m looking after number two. Unlike the shuffle mum, I can’t take a morning off to make a robot. I would lose my job.
There is nothing worse than mums competing against each other, or judging, or making another mum feel they are letting their child down by not being able to help out in their class. I lie, actually there is something worse than this, and it’s all the above thinly veiled in passive aggressive, sugar coated sarcasm. The ‘if we all just went in for half an hour a week’ troop, the ‘I know we’re all busy, but I managed to find a window’ contingent.
And if you are an intelligent, level headed realist as I like to think I am, you know you can’t write anything even halfway truthful on this type of status. ‘Listen, you may have the time, your own business, a nanny etc. to be able to be a nuisance at your kids school, but I don’t and can you please stop making me feel like I’m contributing to my daughters entire school failing its OFSTED because I didn’t make a robot/read a book/swim a length with a year 2’ is what I’d like to write. Instead ‘Sorry I’m working’ is the best I can do without feeling the wrath of the PTA.
The best streams of this sort of chat happen on a Friday. The gang feel more vitriolic, there is two days for the shit storm to die down. You cannot say what you truly want to say on a Tuesday, not with Wednesday morning’s face to face engagements so close. But what you can be sure of is this. On the Monday morning, at the gates, all is forgotten. You will be smiled at, your children will all be playing together nicely and the only ounce of competitiveness will come from who had the best hangover on the Sunday.
And there you have it, the utter contradiction of the PTA mum, first to make you feel crap about letting your child down, but got so shit faced on Saturday night on Waitrose Chablis that she ignored her kids all day on Sunday and wants the world to know about it.