As a child I was always irritated by the endless parade of ‘Back to school’ signs in shops, seemingly taunting us all summer long, as if not wanting us to forget that these blissful carefree summer days would eventually be coming to an end. So perhaps I’ve carried this irritation into my adult life and this accounts for my feelings at the repeatedly tedious attempts at conversation with my child by friends, family and strangers alike.
“When do you go back to school?”
“Are you going back to school soon?”
“Are you looking forward to starting school again?”
But today a woman, a complete stranger, passing us in the supermarket aisle, took things to a new level.
“Are you going back to school on Monday?” she asks my child.
“Yes” he dutifully replies.
“Good” she says, “I’m glad. I bet your mum’s glad too.”
Firstly, please have the goodness not to make uneducated guesses as to my feelings regarding my child’s imminent return to the box ticking factory that is our education system, and all the trials and tribulations this brings back into his life (and consequently, mine). This in contrast to the hours of free play on the street that have made up a good part of his 7 week break, punctuated by a few days here and there of Forest Schools, and hiking holidays, which in turn lead to more free play with new sets of children, around the caravan parks and hostels we stayed in. All this makes for a happy, carefree child. Why would I look forward to this happiness being doused by his return to school?
Secondly, there’s this thing called ‘self esteem’ or ‘self worth’. And kids need this like plants need water. It seems this concept is rather alien to some, particularly those from a certain generation, to which I suspect this woman belongs. So let me spell it out: I want my child to feel loved, wanted, accepted and valued, not that he is a nuisance or an inconvenience of whose company I can’t wait to be rid. The latter is clearly the message this woman’s remarks were sending, whether intentionally or not.
What’s more, her remarks to my child are a great example of an habitual lack of respect towards children that seems to continue to lurk in our society. Would she have spoken to an adult like that? What had my child done to her, what does she know of him, that she needs to express her dislike for him in this way? Just a flippant remark? Maybe, but children are not stupid, they are fully aware of the implications of our remarks about them, and will draw their own conclusions. And their feelings are liable to being hurt just in the same way as those of an adult, if anything, more so.
I made the point of telling my child, in tones suitably audible, that on the contrary, I did not want him to go back to school, and that I would miss him, accompanying this with an affectionate hug and kiss. We then moved swiftly on down the aisle.
Now believe me, I fully understand and sympathise with parents who are in fact looking forward to their children returning to school. And I don’t believe parents should feel guilty for feeling this way. There have been, and continue to be, plenty of times during my life as a parent when I have wished my child elsewhere.
But if you are looking forward to school starting, please don’t presume I feel that way, and please, for pity’s sake, don’t tell your child you feel that way, and certainly not my child.