An Enemy At The Gates?

So, the new school year is well under way and the kids are resigned to the fact that they’ll regularly be dragging themselves out of bed to be slapped around the face by the chilly pre-dawn day all the way through to next summer.

It’s a big battle won – though it will have to be repeated to a lesser degree (more of a skirmish than a battle, I guess) following half-term breaks and especially Christmas and Easter holidays.

Small price to pay. Everything’s kind of running as it should: out of bed, lunch boxes filled, breakfast doled out, bags packed, toothbrushes brought within semi-close proximity to teeth and off we go to the Seat of Learning.

But if the offspring are playing their roles in this daily mini-drama, so are all the other players. By which I mean…The Mums at the School Gate.

Unless you’ve never dropped off your little darlings in the morning or gathered them up at day’s end (and, frankly, if that’s the case you need to ponder why you’re browsing the pages of an informed and enlightened website such as this one), you will have encountered this many-hued tribe.

Fine if you’re an occasional depositor/collector. As such, you’re a bit of a novelty and might attract curious (even admiring?) glances as you whisk the little ones into school, all bustle and brisk greeting in your suit/work clothes/dad’s day off uniform.

But for the regulars it’s a very different proposition. Like it or not, we have been mired in the murky world of School Gate politics – one which makes the Westminster version seem like, well, kindergarten.

Actually ‘mired in’ is a bit of an overstatement. The best a dad can hope for is permission to enter the Outer Circle. Even membership to this least exalted level will only come after time and the hard work of smiles and ‘hellos’ have been chalked up. And acceptance allows you to make only cursory conversation – generally initiated by a mum. Try overstepping the line with enthusiastic, extended chat as you await the arrival of your beloved children and see where that gets you. A cold-shouldered, hard-staring brush-off, that’s where.

Mind you, being a social outcast has its benefits. If you’re familiar with Gill Hornby’s novel ‘The Hive’ you’ll know what I mean. And if you’re not, trust me – we’re better off hunched in our own little corner of the playground or pavement, pretending to look at our phones or making grunting noises about sports results we couldn’t really care less about.

That way, we don’t have to navigate the Queen Bees, the Workers, the Yummies, the Slummies or any of the other sub-sets which school mums everywhere seem to naturally migrate towards.

I guess it’s the principle of exclusion that itches like a particularly nasty bee sting. At a time when #MeToo is such a powerful force, it’s tempting to add an addendum: #DontForgetUs (irritatingly, you can’t use apostrophes in hashtags on social media, groans the grammar fan in me).

The ‘Us’ in question refers to dads who build their days around school hours – just like all those mums at the gates. There appear to be more and more of us with each passing term but there’s still a sense that we are an inferior option for the poor little ones tumbling into or out of class.

We don’t get included in parents’ (er, Mums’) WhatsApp groups, we struggle to get on the playdate (‘hangout’ for the older, more sophisticated young people) circuit and we’re inevitably the last to hear school-related tittle-tattle.

Come to think of it, I quite like being an Outsider.