Assuming you haven’t come into step parenting at a very young age, you are going to find there are vast differences in the way that schools work compared to your own tender experience as a child. If you are inserted into step parenthood via a child that is already some way into their school years, you’ll find the learning curve staggering. Here is the rookie’s guide to navigating the minefield that is primary school.
Everything is on an app
Without wanting to reveal my age, I have to declare that school communications to my parents involved photocopies of something typed in the font that we know today as courier, which was in fact the only font that you could belt out on an old-school manual typewriter. Mrs Bryan in the principal’s office constructed all the notices which were duly carted home, often adhered to a loose cheese sandwich which had been scorned during the lunch break. This is how you knew of Father’s Day Stalls and how you received excursion consent forms (without nearly enough fine print as today’s litigious world would demand)
Now it’s an app. This is goodness in that you are aren’t subjected to the inherent inadequacy of single-copy paper-based comms where your child switches between two households. You need not delve a hand into a school bag, risking the shock that comes from sliding a hand over a long-ignored pear that has started to reduce itself to liquid. The downside? This app is the ‘Facebook of Shame’ in that it will convey to you every extra-curricular activity that you are failing to support and every thankless volunteer activity that you are leaving to that tired but dedicated group of super mums who care more than you. It has a Facebook like feed function, but denies you a like button so you can’t relieve your stepmum guilt by simply showing thumbs up support about something to do with the next trivia night.
The canteen is different
Ordering a bought lunch was a rare treat in my primary school years. The canteen menu was free of any guilt-inducing count of calories, fat grams or healthy food star ratings. It contained a glorious array of junk food and you were at no risk of censure or removal into child services protection if you ordered the combo of sausage roll, pineapple donut AND chocolate milk.
Entrée into this olden-day world of lunch orders demanded nothing more from an overworked mother than the order written on a paper bag and inclusion of the appropriate collection of coins.
These days, again, it’s on an app. Pies and donuts don’t feature on the list. Losing a first tooth in a sausage roll half way through primary school is apparently a milestone that will be denied our current generation. The equivalent will be a tooth gouged out by a canteen-baked, guaranteed nut-free, organic oat cookie. Soft drinks are replaced by fruit tinged bubbly water and smoothies. It feels inevitable that the app will shortly include a tab that presents you with purely paleo options.
The order is charged to your credit card and there’s a neat little ‘recurring’ button if you want an intervention-free delivery of a standing lunch order, assuming your stepchild is conveniently lodged in a food rut. Just remember to turn it off once they graduate.
Traditions are reworked
Mother’s and Father’s Days are universally a big topic for kids schools. Twenty years ago this involved some concentrated craft effort in producing picture frames, hand-made chocolates and glittery cards. Now it involves a serious supply chain logistics effort in diverting cheap Chinese made products of dubious quality to local school kids.
The school app has educated me that the female champions that require honouring on mother’s day are confined to very traditional roles: ‘Bring your mum, your nanna, your grandma!’ (stepmamas don’t get a guernsey)
Sadly, it appears that getting a male role model into a father’s day breakfast is much harder and achieving a respectable level of attendance necessitates casting a far wider net. The school app will breezily convey that it the ‘Father’s and Special Fellas’ day stall and invites ‘Dads, Grandpas, Stepdads, Uncles, Neighbours, Friends and Brothers’ and only just stops short of inviting your local Jim’s mowing guy.
Digital delivery of guilt
Social media already provides several channels to provoke feelings of complete inadequacy. There is already an amazing ability to poke at your most vulnerable bits. The sparkling blue seas around a Facebook Bora Bora honeymoon overwater bungalow pic will gouge away at that item on your un-ticked bucket list. The Pinterest post of a pantry impeccably herded into stacked and labelled Tupperware will compare unfavourably with your food anarchy that plays host to an infestation of pantry moths and make you question everything about your ability as an organised woman.
The school app is going to grind away at your guilt levels in the same way that seawater carves out cliffs. Here are some examples
- A call for volunteers in the kid’s canteen. A desperate call for volunteers in the kid’s canteen. A sombre announcement that the kid’s canteen is closing. The auctioning off of bulk ingredients left unused after the closure of the kid’s canteen
- The call to send a dollar with your kid for icy pole day, noted by you three days after icypole day
- The call for helpers on gelato day, asking that you BYO and apron and scoop which only serves to reinforce your domestic disgrace in owning neither an apron nor an ice-cream scoop.
A twist on fundraising concepts
There’s a wine drive.
We had a snowball drive in my day. Thousands of marshmallows gave up their lives to coalesce with faux chocolate and desiccated coconut and evolve into a mountain of half-dozen snowball packs. You had to sell them to neighbours, colleagues and family to raise money to fund school projects.
When I saw ‘wine drive’ I applauded the evolution of the snowball drive. I imagined a carefully curated collection of award-winning whites and reds, pre-bundled for you and representing the perfect emergency stash for unexpected guests. The backup/disaster recovery equivalent that will save you calling an Uber in the event of a late night wine drought. The perfect combination of a fund-raising package that benefits the school and boosts your wine stash. I’d pay over the odds for that.
No. They are actually calling on you to donate your unwanted wine to be auctioned off at trivia night.
They lost me at unwanted wine.
You just need to become accustomed to how your life has changed. Five years ago you would have woken up to a bunch of email notifications triggered by a late-night wine-fuelled placement of your profile on a dating website. Today you will wake up to a notification that there’s a kid to be picked up after school camp at 2:15pm.
It’s different. Try to breathe.