10 Truths About the Primary School Years**

We all know the school gates are more toxic than a post-curry air bagel. Here is my guide to surviving them…

1. Regarding looking knackered in the morning

Firstly, I advise trying to get your partner to do the school run. If this doesn’t work I suggest you take my lead and a) wear a poncho/cloak. (No one will ever know you’re still in your nightie, and it serves brilliantly as a cover for morning abdominal gas/bloating) or b) home school.

2. One sexy parent mum and one sexy parent dad

There is always one of each of these in every school and invariably it is neither you nor your partner.

If you’re lucky, your child will make friends with the offspring of sexy mum or dad and you will get to do lots of coffee/football/yoga mornings together whilst secretly checking out their house for signs of marital discontent.

3. At some point, your child will embarrass you

Perhaps they will do a drawing of you naked or make a passing comment to their teacher about “mummy’s special grown-up juice” or about how your computer password is T**S.  Perhaps, they will have written a story  like the one my husband wrote, aged 7, about his mother’s trip to the doctor’s for a blood test which he entitled, “The Day Mummy Had A Little Prick” with accompanying graphics in crayon.

You may not be aware of said embarrassing reveal until Parent’s Evening when the teacher smirks as you sit down. If said smirk occurs, demand to see your child’s art folder and English book immediately and rip out all incriminating pages. (Not much damage can be done in maths).

4. Nits

Let me make it clear: you will see more nits during your child’s time at nursery/primary school than Kerry Katona has seen white powdery granules (allegedly). My theory is that nits don’t actually feed off the blood on your child’s scalp, but off YOUR frustration.  If you put a nit under a microscope you will see it clutching its little grey, opaque abdomen with its six little legs, laughing in the face of your nitty gritty comb.

NITS WANT YOUR TEARS.

They grow bigger from your loathing like Darth Vader off Luke Skywalker.

5. Cake/bake sales

I can’t be doing with this bit of motherhood. It was totally NOT in the manual. I can barely cook as it is (See touching slideshow below for examples):

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I’m hardly likely to suddenly come over all Jane Asher and deliver something edible anytime soon now am I?

However, I have seen the cupcakes at our local church school down the road and I can only conclude that angels, perhaps even the Lord himself, helps those mother’s bake overnight in some kind of heavenly version of Masterchef. It’s cheating.

6. There is always one teacher all the dads fancy (TILF)

“Ready for the parents race are we?” she (the TILF) will beam as she skips past you in her lycra shorts on Sport’s Day.  Then she will laugh and you’ll think, “Why is she laughing? Is it that obvious that I am absolutely NOT ready for the parent’s race for fear of knocking myself out with my own breasts? Is it that obvs that WHEN I RUN I WEE?”

Yes, she is hot and young and sort of ‘springy’ and your husband will definitely volunteer to do parents evening this year. But just think how foolish your husband will look trying to be cool, charming and sexy with his knees around his ears as he sits on one of those tiny chairs made for 4-year-olds. He will look like a sad, demented praying mantis ogling an untouchable bird of paradise while you are comfortably at home eating choccies with a George Clooney DVD.

7. PTA stands for Parent’s Torture Association

Don’t misunderstand me. Most members of most PTA’s are amazing people who work their butts off in a bottomless pit of indifference, malaise and apathy. Sadly however, PTA’s can be a little bit like Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, embodying aspects of British culture that are embarrassingly anachronistic. Often run by a select group of posh people in corduroys who think selling lemonade at the school gates will transform an inner London State school into Bedales, some PTA’s are mind-bogglingly weird and also, scary.

The one time I was on a school PTA, I was in charge of the Christmas grotto with a fellow mum. We spent £300 building the most beautiful grotto you’ve ever seen; fairy lights, fake snow, we practically had LIVE reindeer I swear! Only to find we had misread our “PTA Grotto Instructions”. We were expected to RAISE £300 not spend £300.

But I tell you this, you cannot buy a memory … ah,  the looks of wonder on their little faces. And that was just the other PTA members before they booted us out. Demoted to ‘normal parent’ status me and the other mum were destined to walk the linoleum corridors of shame for all eternity.

(Note to any friends reading this who are on the PTA at my current school, you are clearly not any of the above and I love you all).

8. Christmas fair or no fair

You can try it all: Winter Wonderland, Ye Olde Fayre, Holiday Party, AN Other PC Name, but everyone just wants to see a fat bloke dressed as bloody Father Christmas at the flipping Christmas Fair during bloody, flipping Christmas time.

Everyone wants to pay £1 to sit on a sweaty man’s knee (the thing we’re told not to do every other day of the year) and receive a present worth 10p (ideally from Woolworths RIP) that has been wrapped in tissue-thin paper from the local street market.

All the parents want to drink mulled wine from the huge bubbling vat that normally contains (and still slightly tastes of) soup, and all the dads want to get hammered enough to chat up the TILF.

Everyone wants to pay 50p to win back the same bottle they contributed to the tombola, and EVERYONE and I mean EVERYONE loves a raffle. (Although if you do win First Prize, everyone will hate you).

9. From caterpillars to… big, sweary pupae

By the time your sproglet leaves primary school, they will have transformed from pant-wetting adorable into an incredible mini-adult aged 7 with an impressive repertory of swearwords at their disposal.

“Give me the child till the age of seven and I will show you the man,” said someone very clever who knew their organically-grown shallots as this is definitely true of boys who fight and wear their pants around their bum crack well into adulthood. By 7, girls have mastered the art of looking disdainful and will have experimented with sideways pony tails. So it’s not that they’ve learned nothing.

10. Relax

Think about it; unless you were the victim of serious bullying at primary school, the thing you probably remember most is the smells. The smell of lunches and disinfectant, the teacher’s coffee breath, the dinner ladies and their polyester-pungent lady bosoms of comfort, the headmistresses office (whiskey and paper). Ah, the stench of the communal mouthpieces on the recorders and the miraculous farts from the bottoms of babes… primary school is a veritable nasal tour de force.

We don’t remember if we had a heated, sprung-floor gym, an Iguana as a class pet or day trips to Venice. No, we remember if people were kind to us and whether our parents and carers picked us up on time. What remains of primary school is, well, a primary feeling summed up by a whiff. ‘Tis a mere base note in the great perfume of life. Or as my 6-year-old would say, “School stinks”.

 **By Primary School Years I mean roughly the journey from ages 4-7. 

20 Things I Want My Teenage Daughter to Know – Notes From a Menopausal Mum

Sara Bran by Mia Bran aged 6

My mum by Mia Bran

1.Choose a personal theme tune early on and stick with it. This is extremely useful for the cinematic enhancement of dramatic life moments such as break-ups, anniversaries and celebrations. It will also provide comfort during time spent on runways waiting for Easy Jet flights to take off (approx. 98 hours in the average lifetime),  childbirth and terrible sex. My theme tune for example, is Saturday Night Fever and when my daughters were born, there was only wah-wah guitar in my head. That and the vision John Travolta’s white nylon-clad buttocks. But that’s Pethidine for you.

2. Enjoy those perky nugga nuggas. One day you will be able to tune into Radio 4 with them.

3. Laugh often. Some day this will be accompanied by small amounts of wee.

4. Whereas I could floss my teeth with your underwear, you could raise a small family of baboons in mine.

5. When you kiss someone, kiss them like you could die. Abandon all reason, climb inside the moment heart and soul, surrender to love and all its possibilites, and then steal their wallet. (I have found that being a combination of Jane Eyre and the Artful Dodger is practically irresistible to men).

6. The same boy who is currently breaking your heart will one day be capable only of breaking wind. One day, he will be an unemployed security guard living in Leighton Buzzard with a wife he hates. One day, his hairline will receed. And also his gums. (N.B. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental).

7. You are rubbish at sex and will be until you are at least 30.

8. When (if)  you say, “I do”, it is perfectly normal to have an evil genius voice inside  your head going, “Hehehe… or do I?”

9. The intangible feeling that you should either be doing something else, be somewhere else, living a different life or that you’ve forgotten something important, never, ever goes away.

10. It is still a man’s world.

11. Karaoke is a cure-all for all ailments for all women. There is, in fact, an underground insurgency taking place in karaoke bars around the world vis-a-vis the above fact of it being a man’s world. Fuck burning your bra. Wear a good one with decent support and SING SISTER SING!

12. If you decide to mother, do it unconditionally and with complete abandon. Thinking you can still do anything else leads to utter despair and an addiction to Jaffa Cakes

13. Also, if you decide to mother, during pregnancy, sandpaper your nipples daily. No one advises this but it is a genius idea and prepares you for the reality of breast feeding.

14. In mid-life, inexplicably, one armpit will start to smell worse than the other. (Or is that just me?)

15. Some day, you will really understand what sisterhood is all about and it will save you. Now sisterhood is all, “Can I borrow your Top Shop jeans,” and “Will you hold my hair back while I chunder up this WKD?” but one day, you will find solace in another woman’s empathic smile as you wipe baby sick off your jacket. You will love beyond measure those girlfriends who drag you out to celebrate your divorce. Sisterhood will save you when the blokes all start popping off earlier than us tough old birds. When we stop being in competition with each other and judging one another’s mothering/parenting/looks/size/shape/choices, women are awesome.

16. Whatever your age, if you have music in your bones, nothing will be as joyful as standing in a muddy field at sunset when the bass kicks in.

17. When you are a teenager, there’s a lot of hassle about best friends, boyfriends, bitchy friends, twitchy friends, new friends, old friends. In middle-age the only friend you need is good lighting.

18. That old saying about being a ‘Wise Woman’ in later years is actually a misreading of the term ‘Pies Woman’ which is what you become after you stop giving a damn what boys think.

19. Because I was born with all my eggs, as all women are, it means that when I was in my mum’s belly, you were there too. Remember your maternal grandmother’s story and pass it on. It matters.

20. One day you will look in the mirror and see me.

The Empress’s Old Clothes: On Why Every Ageing Woman Needs Patti Smith

Patti SmithCall me reckless and foolhardy, but I thought de-cluttering the attic would be a constructive way to spend a drizzly London Sunday. Fast-forward three hours however, and I was sitting on my bed in emotional turmoil, weeping over ‘old stuff’.

It all started innocently enough. The initial few feet of clutter comprised a series of dusty suitcases, lined up like dutiful soldiers. The first couple I opened were harmless containing as they did ‘Our Summer Things’. Sandals bent out of shape by last year’s sweat; beach dresses stiffened by seawater; t-shirts smelling of sun lotion from our holiday in Spain. I jumped when a couple of unspent Euros dropped onto the floor and noisily spun themselves into stillness. The next suitcases were more emotional, ‘The Ones With The Baby Clothes’. However, my nostalgia for the newborn days of my daughters was held in check by equally potent memories of how bloody hard it was.  So I happily kept the most precious items, things the girls might like ‘for their own kids’, and let the rest go to Oxfam. And then, just when I thought I was safe, I spotted the mother of all suitcases tucked away at the back of the eaves. Pillar box red and large enough to contain a small horse, it beckoned like Pandora’s Samsonite box.  “Open me” it said.

And so I did.  In it were layers of my old clothes, things I would have been wearing around the time I got together with my husband eleven years ago. I pulled them out one-by-one stroking the fabrics like and old lady finding stray cats. I tried desperately to remember the ‘me’ who wore the clothes, and found that rather like recalling the face of a dearly departed one, you remember the general idea, but the detail is lost. You think you won’t forget, but oh, how you do.

The clothes were all in sizes six and eight (UK sizes) like they belonged to a child. There was the top I was wearing when my husband proposed to me, and a t-shirt I was given when I toured Japan in my singing days. I found one of my few concessions to designer labels, a mint green Malene Birger skirt I bought off a friend who was at my wedding but who I’ve since lost touch with. There was a collection of eclectic items bought on Haight Street during my San Francisco years. “These are my old skins”, I thought to myself, “shredded layer upon layer, and I hadn’t even noticed I was changing.”

I was totally shocked to find these clothes defining moments in my past more powerfully than old photographs. The contents of the suitcase were like some terrible haunting, a ghostly revisiting of my old selves. I found myself almost superstitious about throwing any of it away. Perhaps because these things were there with me in the past, tangible witnesses to who I was then. They held my body, they were next to my skin and now they cannot even begin to contain me.  I couldn’t possibly get one of those tops over my burgeoning bosom now; my old waistline is my new thigh. That I was ever that small and streamlined strikes me as ridiculous and yet there’s a part of me that wants to crawl right back inside these acrylic and cotton castes of my old self.  How ironic it is that at a time when there is physically so much more of me in the world, I am at my most invisible culturally. I look up from Pandora’s suitcase and catch a glimpse of myself in the bedroom mirror.  I notice that I am kind of boggy now, moon shaped bags under my eyes, crevices when I smile. The angularity of my face has gone and there is no definition in my body.  The clothes remind me that I was once a wiry little missile, completely airborne, with a vision and expectations of the world that were arrow sharp. (The fact that I was this way due to lots of cigarettes, habitually skipped meals and a nervous system on fire matters not in my hankering for youth). The body I have now reflects what is needed now; be vigilant it says, buttress yourself against disappointment; scare the off the enemy  with the sheer size of your arse. I am a mother, my family’s frontline of defence, fattening for the domestic pot into which I would happily jump and boil myself if it would save my brood.

My outer appearance reflects my inner state. My mind, like my jaw line is ill-defined, constructed of fuzzy edges. How I long to forge sharp new neurological pathways in my brain or travel across America in a camper van, but instead I stick to what I know is needed for the greater good.  My goals feel less defined because they are less about me and perhaps it doesn’t really matter, but I do seem to find myself in an uncertain sea. Interestingly, the directionlessness I feel is being played out in the very cells of my being as my hormones shift towards menopause. There’s just no routine anymore. Yes ladies, perimenopause starts around age thrity-five and ends around fifty-five; that’s twenty years of chemical ping pong we all have to play without a goddamn bat between us.

I remember my granny  saying that she never felt old, that she never noticed time passing, and I know what she means now. In the Tarot of midlife, I am shifting from the Empress card of  fertility and family to the High Priestess, the goddess within. Sitting with a group of friends recently, I noticed how inward my energy has become. I am no longer reeling things in towards me, but instead am an observer, offering a bit of advice if asked.  On good days, I am journeying from Mother to Wise Woman, on bad days from youthful pretty hot stuff to boggy earthbound sloth. I would be lying if I said I don’t I miss something of the ‘me’ in Pandora’s suitcase; all that delicious youthful power that turns heads and breaks hearts. Now, I’m thankful if I get though a social encounter without breaking wind. But there are compensations; I’ve got funnier as I’ve got older, I have far more permission to be ridiculous now than I did when I was young.  And I have a bosom of Shakespearean barmaid proportions. Proper, bawdy lady bazookas that came free with child-rearing.

For those of you who aren’t there yet, midlife feels like this: You are standing alone in the middle of a large, flat desert plain; the tallest thing for miles is you. In the not so distant distance, a heady black thunderstorm is gathering and starts rolling towards you. Before you see the storm, you can sense it; the air is static and filled with moisture, pockets of heat surge and fall and lightening starts splitting open the sky and skewering the earth.  Man, I really wish I could put a tree somewhere in this metaphor, but there is nowhere to hide and there is nothing to do but stand tall and hope it strikes quickly.

If it had a soundtrack, midlife would be accompanied by the juddering strings of a suspense thriller or perhaps the ghostly crackle and bleep of one of those creepy satellite dishes listening for life on Mars. “Is there life over 50?”  The message is sent out across the universe and if you listen hard enough you can hear the whispers of invisible older women answering, “Yes, don’t be scared.”  But that’s my point, I can’t bloody hear them so I don’t want to throw the old me into the Oxfam bags yet. Where have all my cultural icons gone? Where are the amazing sisters who will pull me through the next phase of my life? Where are the older women who have survived motherhood (yes, it is a question of survival) AND the menopausal storm without resorting to surgery and its demeaning ugly sisters Botox and Microdermabrasion?

As I reached the bottom of the Dreadful Suitcase of Hell, I realized that Patti Smith is the only woman I could think of who can guide me now. She found her voice again at 50 and released a violent warrior of an album in the wake of her midlife fury. And so, with Patti on the CD player I finally found myself able to bag up the past and send it to the charity shop. I did however keep the shirt I was wearing when my husband proposed. That was, when all is said and done, a bloody good day.