Coffee in one hand, keys in the other, I lock the car and make my way up the street towards the gates – not too early and not too late. I continue on into the school-yard and scan the area. Some familiar faces, standing together in a group. Mums from one of the other classes – five or six who know one another well; who see each other every day. I smile in their general direction as I walk past, but I’m not sure they see me.
I pick a spot and stand, coffee in hand, sunglasses on. My props. In lieu of children, who make much better props. Or better security blankets, to be more honest. But no kids with me today, just coffee.
My hand itches to take out my phone. The ultimate go-to option for anyone waiting anywhere. But if I do that, I’m putting up a sign. “I’m fine, don’t talk to me, I’m very busy looking at my phone,” is what the sign would say. So I leave my phone in my bag, each and every time my hand moves involuntarily to fish it out.
I glance around again, trying to work out which mums belong to my class. The few I know are not here today. Daughters on playdates or at after-school activities. I see some mums like me, standing on their own – looking at phones, or holding onto buggies. Some have smaller kids to chat to. And some have other mums to chat to – standing in huddles of two or three. Perhaps they knew each other before our daughters started Junior Infants a few months ago, or perhaps they’re here every day, unlike me, the once a week mum.
The class come out, and I wait in turn for my smiling girl. A big hug, and a school-bag handover. We hold hands and she walks beside me, doing a little skip every few steps. She tells me about her day, all the way to the car. “I love when you collect me mum,” she says, as she climbs in.
A few weeks later, another collection, another dearth of familiar faces. I see a trio standing together – not people I know well, but I’m certain their daughters are in class with mine. I decide to be brave and walk over. And of course, they smile and say hello and include me in their conversation – of course they do.
“Is this the corner for parents from our class do you think?” said one.
“I’m not sure – I’m only here once a week,” I replied.
“Me too,” she said.
“So am I,” said another parent, “Just the one day, so I’m always a bit unsure about who’s who.”
“I’m the same,” said the third, “So I guess this is the corner for people who only come once a week and don’t really know anyone.”
That sounds good to me. I see my junior infant skipping towards me, waving at her friends, as she dives for a hug. Then she runs off again, to hold hands with a class-mate as we walk towards the car. I’m feeling inspired. I’m taking lessons from the five-year-old. It’s time to be braver at the school-gate. Well, as long as the other once-a-week mums keep showing up in our corner.
And another thing: Homework chaos and dinner meltdowns; it should be the best part of the day, but coming home from work isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Tell me I’m not alone? An article for HerFamily.ie: The Best Part of the Day (or not)