Sunday, May 30, 2010

A quiet word with the Principal

I'm new to this school business.

And I suspect like any new venture, one takes some time to familiarise self with the lay of the land.

School, that is primary school, has been a series of miscommunications for this mother.

For some reason, I thought school would consist of me dropping my child at the gate at 9.30am and retrieving child from the gate/classroom/grassy knoll, at 3.30pm. I thought life was supposed to become hassle free, and free free, that is free in a monetary sense. I mean after all, public schooling in Australia is free, well, that is if you avail yourself to the public system rather than the private one. I thought, well I just figured that once you had hand-reared them to the age of school admittance, then life got easier. I figured I'd really only have the other two kids to worry about, to make demands on my time. To suck the life out of me.

But turns out all my preconceptions were tragic misconceptions.

Turns out, as luck would have it, that parent participation has never been more full throttle than at 'big school' (to delineate from 'pre-school' where the 2 to 4 year olds go).

Turns out turning 5, means making Easter Bonnets (means mother makes Easter Bonnets, or rather has to source all the materials to make Easter Bonnet hat in order for child to make hat at school). As luck would have it, this mother has missed most of the announcements that get sent home in form of school newsletter. Mostly because school newsletter is in the form of email, which is only accessible from the school website. That is, one is sent an email, telling parents to log into website to retrieve school newsletter. This means one needs to have time to log onto school website, type in code word (which one forgets every time because one is so sleep deprived one can hardly remember offspring’s name let alone school website's log in word).

If it were not for the mothers that this mother meets haphazardly outside of the classroom, then she would have missed out on some fairly crucial information over the last 10 weeks.

But, and I do say BUT, because on this particular occasion, I had versed myself in the requirements of the Easter Hat. And on the day in question, had in manic random fashion, torn the house apart the morning of Easter Hat making day, in order to find materials for Ella to make her hat. Turns out, house is not overbrimming with items to make suitable Easter Hat. Instead I ripped tin foil from foil roll, grabbed some cotton wool balls and pulled ribbon off teddy bear's necktie to use for decorations. Lola (middle child, 3 yrs old) saw my poaching of teddy's neck tie and duly confiscated it declaring that there was no way Ella was using her Teddy's ribbon for any Easter Hat.

Ella did however have a little bag of decorations to take to school with her that day, which meant I was feeling rather proud of self for finally stepping up and become a 'good' mother.

Turns out pride was short lived.

Easter Hat making day was the following Tuesday not the Tuesday I had thought.

Teacher takes small bag of decorations for good keeping until Easter Hat day the following Tuesday.

Following Tuesday.

Teacher has lost the previous Tuesday's Easter Hat decoration bag.

Ella, now bereft of any decorations for hat was also, bereft of hat to decorate. Seems Mum had missed some fairly important items on the list, namely, provide hat for decorating.

Ella was the only child in class with no hat and no decorations.

But Ella, a bit like her Mum, seems to have that sort of luck where she lands on her feet. And instead of a fairy godmother, real life mother's took pity on little Ella and amply provided for her in the form of a red sparkly top hat covered in yellow chickens.

I suspect, it is only a matter of time before I can stop claiming that the reason I'm so disorganised is because I'm managing a baby, a 3 yr old and a five year old. I suspect at some stage the baby will be a 20 year old and I'll still be claiming the reasons I'm fluffing everything up is because I have three children to look after.

At some point, I do recognise that mumbling that excuse is going to wear thin. I get that the other mother's on the P&C will whisper together, "Oh that's the mother who's always mumbling she's sleep deprived with new baby and toddler and five year old...When really it's because she's drinking enough vodka to keep the Russian economy going for the next century."

And frankly they'd be right.

About the vodka.

And the mumbling.

I do realise that the excuse will wear thin.

But for now, it seems to be holding water.

But back to the requirements of school aged children and parental participation.

You see, it's not just the Easter hats, or the ubiquitous permission slips asking for money to attend this or that, or the walk-a-thons, or the sports days or the mother's day gift stall or the cake stall that you have to make a cake for (am most sure I am the only mother who raced to the local shops to buy ridiculously over priced cake to stick in cake box, mark with my child's name and deliver to cake stall making gushing smile of protest that really it didn’t take any time at all to whip up said Nigella Lawson style cake extravaganza).

The other mother's seem to have taken pity on me.

They let me know when there is some craft thingo on where I'm supposed to provide something for Ella to bring to school or if there is a fundraising thing on in the playground that afternoon that I'm supposed to give Ella money for. A couple of them even offered in the first few weeks of school to take Ella home with them because I got the time wrong to pick her up, all week. (Well I mean really, the school website says pick up at 3.30pm... turns out they had sent home a green form that said kindy kids were to picked up at 3pm... green form? How did I miss a green form? I thought all info was web based and required knowledge of passwords?) Seems it was in the front pocket of Ella's school bag. I'm lucky to know what's in the front pocket of my handbag let alone anyone else’s bag.) So it's just as well they've taken pity on me. I know it's pity because when they talk to me they do it in that voice that sounds like they're talking to a toddler, you know, using a loud voice, speaking slowly and smiling a lot. But I'm fine with this. At least it means I don’t have to try and remember the log in word for the school website.

It took until the final week of term to find out there was assembly every morning in the top playground. The website (seems this is not the purveyor of all knowledge) says school starts at 9.30am and to have child at school by 9.25am. This works well for us because right up until 9.20am we have a baby that needs nappy changing, a three year old that is busy trying to direct her own orchestral movement, and a five year old pouting in the corner because she cant get her tooth to wiggle out. Every spare minute we get in the morning to stay inside the house is one in our favour.

Now what I thought was interesting, each day as we dropped Ella off at 9.25am all her little class mates were marching down the hill to her classroom in two's. Just like the animals in Noah's ark, two by two down the hill they came, with one child on the end without a partner, ostensively I now realise, because Ella was not there to finish off the two by twos.

Now, keeping in mind, at the beginning of Ella's first year at school, I was still up several times a night with Mr Cuba, the baby boy who never slept. Now whilst I recognised this two by two pairing anomaly happened every day, I was too tired to really work out why it was happening. I just nodded, handed Ella to her teacher and took the rest of my mottle crew back home, knowing in full certainty that the website said that children needed to be at school by 9.25am.

Seems I must have missed a pink bit of paper or a green one or some other colour, because one day we got to school early to find there was an assembly up in the top courtyard. Ella was obviously completely out of her element. She'd never seen an assembly before, nor had I. When I spoke to Richard (Husband) about it later that day he said he thought there were assembly's on a Tuesday and we should make some effort to get there earlier on that day.

The following Tuesday I stood with Ella in the teaming playground full of children, and mentioned to one of the mothers how I'd had no idea that there was an assembly every Tuesday morning. One mother laughed, "There's an assembly EVERY morning."

EVERY morning?

I felt like Galileo finding out the world was round.


"And do they march two by two into the ark after assembly?" I enquired of the mother.

"Two by two? What ark?" She seemed perplexed.

"Do they line up in pairs and walk to the kindy classroom from here?" I asked her.

"Oh right, yes, they do."

Oh it was like someone explaining the nature of DNA, the semi helical shape, how the pairs all slipped into line. Finally there was an explanation for the kindy kids marching down the hill in pairs! An assembly!

Turns out, quite unexpectedly, that this was not merely an assembly that young Ella had been missing. I had noticed over the last couple of months that Ella was seemingly less and less her exuberant self. Her confidence seemed low and she wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic as she had been about being at big school. I was at a loss as to why she was slowly changing from the outgoing, little girl that she was, to the shier, less confidant child. But missing assembly got me to thinking. Not only were all the kids there at 9.15 for assembly, most of them it transpires, were playing in the playground together from about 9am. By the time they had all marched down the hill to the ark, they were forming lovely little friendships, friendships that my Ella was missing out on. As soon as the children got to the classroom it was all business, they sat studiously on the carpet waiting for words of wisdom to trickle from the delightful Mr Business's mouth. There was no time for buddying up during wisdom hour. And so, Miss Ella, who often arrived just as everyone was seating themselves on the carpet, was missing out on some much needed social interaction time with the other kindy kids.

Well, Mrs Mother, is nothing but not organised when she finally has the penny drop. So this term, second term, we have arrived punctually at 9am, and Miss Ella, has been playing with her little buddies in the playground and attending assembly and marching two by two into the ark, and bless, there is no left over child missing a partner because Ella is now there to make up the numbers.

And Ella has started to blossom again, she's back to being the rambunctious, frankly annoying self that she was prior to school starting. She's back to bossing everyone around, telling people where to sit, getting everyone to sit still while she recites a poem she's made up. And, most interestingly, she's started telling me what's happening at school.

Which brings me to the title of this post, my quiet (hysterical) word to the principal.

Three kids piled in the back of the car, rain sleeting down on the windscreen and Ella announces she saw a movie that day called the Baby Kidnappers.

"The baby kidnappers?" I enquired with some disbelief. I mean, after all, Ella is only 5.

"Yes, they steal babies. And I'm scared after watching that show."

Hmm I wondered, perhaps this was some sort of social justice class where they instructed children on the types of injustices that happen when say parents steal there own children in custody battles? And then, even for me, that theory seemed a little far fetched.

Perhaps it was to instruct children on ...

To say I was at a loss as to why they would show five year olds this sort of material was an understatement. but it occurred to me that perhaps Ella could elaborate on it. Surely the teachers had prepped them on the nature of the DVD prior to showing it.

"Did the teachers talk to you about the DVD before they showed you the film honey?"


"Did they talk to you about the content of the film after you had watched it?"


"How did you know it was about baby kidnappers?"

"Because they kidnapped the baby."

"You saw them kidnap the baby?"

"Yes, his mummy changed his nappy and then the baby was kidnapped. I'm scared Mummy."

Hmm... well only one thing to do. Call friend who has child four years older and who understands this school gig much better than me.

Friend, "You have to call the school."

Me, "What right now?"

Friend, "Yes, right now."

Me, "But it's Friday afternoon at 3.45pm? Will anyone be there?"

Friend, "Yes of course, they'll be there til 4pm. Ask to speak to her teacher."

Now here's the thing, I'm not really much of a phone person at the best of times. I'm good with email, letter writing and texting on mobile phone. But talking on the phone, well , see, not really my thing. My Husband informs me that the thing my friends find the most annoying about me is that I never answer my phone. Well sure. Ok. But then, that's what voicemail is for isn’t it?

Now if I don’t like answering my phone, you can imagine how keen I am to actually use the phone to call someone. Honestly, I have no idea where this neurosis stems from. In real life, I'm a fairly gregarious individual. I like a good chat, find people engaging and interesting, and for the most part, enjoy social discourse. But put a phone between me and the other party, and it all goes pear shaped. I have often wondered if it's because I cant read their body language over the phone? Or perhaps I find I stretch to much trying to read intonations in their voice, or perhaps it's too much effort for me to intonate my voice to compensate for the lack of visual body language they have. But whatever the reason, unless I know the person exceptionally well, that is EXCEPTIONALLY well, I mostly avoid answering the phone, or making phone calls. That is, until I feel ready to make a call, have fluffed up my psyche and prepared to go into 'phone call mode."

So to ask me to call the school at 3.45pm on a Friday, and after all my procrastinating it was now more akin to 3.50pm on a Friday was not far off asking me to do a quick lap of the block naked in the rain. But I think I'd have preferred nakedness, in rain, giving the neighbours a quick thrill.

"I call and ask for her teacher?"


A little glimmer of hope popped into head, "But what if he's gone home? After all, it is Friday afternoon?"

"Then you ask to speak to the Principal."

The Principal? Oh God, this had just gone from bad to worse? The bloody Principal. Frankly I was still in awe of said Principal. I was still haunted from my student days, with my matriarchal Principal who would have been more at home in a Freddy Kruger film than at a school. I'd been giving Ella's Principal a wide birth but now I had to potentially call and ask to speak to him... at (looking at watch) 4.58pm on a Friday?

"Surely not the Principal?"

"Absolutely. The Principal needs to know what's going on in his school, and will probably know all about the film anyway."

"He WILL?"

"Of course. He's the principal."

"But she's in Kindy."

"Even Kindy kids he knows about."

My worst fears where confirmed. Principals were omnipotent after all.

"Call me as soon as you've spoken to the Principal." and with that she was gone.

I held lifeless mobile in hand.


I had to call the Principal. Hmm... last time I called friend with lots of experience for help.

Instead of calling the Principal, I called one of the other mother's.


So I called another Mother.

She answered.

"No, he didn’t mention anything." Said mother in regards to her son having possible meltdown from Baby snatchers DVD.

"Still mostly everything has been eclipsed by him losing his tooth today. But you need to call the Principal, that's not ok."

Bloody, bloody, bloody, bloody.

"Yes, ah, that's right, I do need to call. Um but I ah, well see, I don’t have the school's number so I'll have to Google it and find it."

"No need I'll text it to you. Call me and tell me what he says."

Once again holding lifeless mobile.

Bugger. Bugger.

Phone buzzes. And in front of me in white glowing letters is the school's number. Well I wasn’t going to go straight to the Principal, I'd start off with Ella's teacher.

I press call.

Phone rings.

Lady answers.

"Oh hello, (funny how you talk in your best voice when calling to speak to nameless person who answers phone at school.. oh hello sounded a bit like best of British comedy when I said it.. O, hair-low) I wonder if I could speak with Mr Teacher."

Lady on other end, "No, Mr Teacher has gone home."

Me, "O"

Lady, silent.

Me, "O, do you think I could speak with Mr Principal then?"

Lady, rather snappily, I mean after all it was now (looking at watch) 4.10pm on a Friday "Mr Principal is not in his office."

By now I was rather in a tiz, I had the sort of heart palpitations that one experiences before a mild stroke. I was all geed up, ready to declare the insanity of showing five year olds social justice issues about Muslim men stealing babies from Anglo wives and taking them to Saudi Arabia and how it wasn’t appropriate to show images of desperate women who couldn’t conceive their own children stealing babies from women who were in the throws of post natal depression and not fast enough to stop baby from being stolen from under their very eyes after a nappy change. And here I was, with no one to vent to.


Lady, "What's this all about?"

And so it came pouring forth. My little girl was scared, she'd seen a movie about babies being stolen...

Lady, (Cutting me off before I could start into my theory on the time and place for social justice issues to be raised.), "Absolutely I'll get Mr Principle."

Seems she managed to find Mr Principal because in a couple of minutes he was on the line apologising for not being with me earlier.

Perhaps I wondered, they knew that the baby kidnapper DVD had been meant for the year 6 students and by some dreadful mistake, it had ended up replacing Bambi in the Kindergarten classroom?

Mr Principle, upon hearing my abridged version of events concurred he had no idea why the class had seen a movie like that, told me he was off to investigate, and would return my call.

I hung up shaking.

Well, now that wasn’t so bad.

I had done my duty as Mother, had called the school, neigh had called the PRINCIPAL. I had declared my position, asked for an explanation, and had defended the rights of my child to be safe and feel safe whilst attending school.

I let myself have a short moment of pride, and then got about the business of cleaning up banana squashed into new rug. I did however wonder how Mr Principal was going to call me back, after all, I had only mentioned my name once, and never left a contact phone number.

Less than ten minutes later Mr Principal was back on the phone.

My eyes widened. Truly principals are omnipotent.

Mr Principal; "The children watched a DVD today at lunchtime as it was raining. The title of the DVD is "Baby's Day Out." it is rated G and is a comedy about a baby that has an exciting adventure roaming around.... "

And he continued to read the blurb on the back of the DVD . Turns out that whilst the baby is kidnapped, the whole laugh a minute is based on the baby being far more of a handful for the kidnappers than they had anticipated.

I thanked the Principal for following it up for me and hung up.


Nothing like calling up Mr Principal, hysterical mother upset about social justice issues and permanently scaring my child's psyche when the whole show was a comedy. A comedy!

Hardy har har.