Well the summer break is now upon us and Katy has finished her first year at school. I know it was nursery and not real school, but it was attached to the school, and the same Parent and Child dynamics hold true. Next term will mean the start of Reception year for her, more tears from her Mum on the first day (not from me you understand, stiff upper lip and all that). It means a real uniform at last, resulting in one less thing to have to think of, pre-coffee every morning. It will also leave me and Mate to do boy things almost exclusively from 9am to 2pm, leaving 2-3pm open for cleaning up of mess and selves, before braving the gauntlet of impeccable Mums at the school gate.
I look back over this past year and wonder how on earth I survived it. I bumbled along from faux-pas to fashion disaster (mine and Katy's) like a drunken ape, and yet I still managed to learn a few things along the way. I will take these life lessons with me into the new school year, in the hope that forewarned is forearmed. So here are some of the things I have learnt this year, and in the belief that history is a lesson in how not to make future mistakes, this should act as my defensive shield for next term.
There are two speeds of stroller pushing Mum, and just by looking at them from afar, you should be able to tell if they are on the way to school, or on the way home. The school-bound Mum pushes with speed and purpose, stopping for neither man nor beast. The accompanying walking children will be half guided half pulled alongside the stroller and woe betide them if they stumble or drop something. Do not attempt to make eye contact if one is seen approaching. She will be employing the 1000 yard stare used by snipers, as she searches for the quickest route and will look straight through you. Whatever you do, avoid the impulse to attempt an overtaking manoeuvre. This will only result in you crashing into a tree at speed, your last sight of Mum being a backwards thrown sneer of contempt.
The home-bound Mum is a different beast altogether, not a care in the world has this Mum. The speed is reduced to a slow meandering crawl, normally two abreast, making any attempt at passing impossible. Your frustration levels will increase, and after 200 yards of this pace you will be forced to cough a polite "Excuse me". They will grudgingly make enough room for you to get by, but you will misjudge this gap and drop one wheel down a curb, resulting in yet another crash. Again your last sight of Mum will be one of a shaking head, combined with the tutting sound reserved for an amateur driver.
I also learnt how to receive a fake phone call. Mock-calls are always handy things to receive when 'Pushy Mum' is trying to gather volunteers to collect/paint/pick-up/distribute something. You turn your back to the group, put your hand in your pocket to retrieve your phone, and in a semi loud voice say "Hello Darling, what's wrong?" You do not need to say anything else, just nod a lot. Whatever you do don't talk otherwise they will realise that you are faking. They know as well as you do that husbands are not allowed to talk during these types of conversations, and you will be busted. Most importantly of all, switch your phone to silent. Can you imagine what would happen if someone was to ring you in the middle of your fake call, a Guns and Roses (Sweet Child of Mine) ringtone blasting through your nodding dog impersonation. I could tell you but I am too busy handing out PTA flyers, then I'm off to dig up the school vegetable patch.
Never, ever, offer a divisive opinion, just don't do it. You have spent the whole year trying to get the Mums to talk to you, and then you weigh in with a sound-bite that then results in Mummy carnage. It could be the most innocent of topics, say for instance, should the nursery trip be to a Zoo or a Farm. Do not answer, this is the perfect time for a Mock-call (don't forget to switch the phone to silent). If you have no alternative but to reply, then sit on that fence until you get splinters. Do not under any circumstances say "I think the Zoo will be better, but to be honest they are both crap ideas. Let's go to the Forest and teach them to climb trees." You may think you were helping, but trust me, you weren't, and your Wife will find out what an idiot you were, eventually.
The last thing I learnt took me until the last day of term to realise. Mums have a weakness. Oh yes they do, and between you and me, don't tell anyone else, do you want to know a secret, I know what it is. They love nothing better than to gossip about each other. Not in a mean spirited kind of way, perish the thought, but general nosiness and gossip keeps their conversations going. We had all chipped in to buy a present for the teachers, to be given to them on the last day of school. For reasons best known to themselves, the Mums decided I would be the one giving the speech. I had spent the whole year trying to get them to listen to me to no avail, and now they wanted me to give them a speech. I am fairly sure 'Irony' was not part of their vocabulary, but I agreed anyway.
The present was an ornamental rose bush (don't ask, I have no idea how that would split 3 ways), which I handed over. I said all the usual platitudes about kids growing up, you have been such a help, inspirational, blah blah blah. It was then I went into mischief mode. I said "I would just to finish on a personal note, if you will indulge me for a few moments more." I could see I had their attention, the idea that I might be giving up some kind of secret had them gripped. I continued "It would not have escaped your notice that I am the only Dad in the group, (pause for polite chuckles) and I must admit it has been hard work learning how to ingratiate myself into your world. It has also been quite a challenge to learn all the things that just seem to come naturally to Mums." They were all smiling and nodding to themselves, a collective agreement in my failings. I then delivered my Coup de grâce, "I would like to thank the Mum, who I won't embarrass by naming, for all those endless cups of coffee whilst she listened to me moan and groan, and for generally putting me on the right track re everything else. I will miss our coffee mornings over the summer, but I won't forget what you told me. Thanks for everything." I then nodded my farewells, making sure I gave a couple of the alpha Mums a hug goodbye, and left them to figure out who the figment of my imagination was.
As Walt Disney said "Always leave them wanting more", and who would know parents and kids better than him?