Written by Emma Mitchell

Voices

Knitting the gauntlet

School-run fashion is a thing, apparently. Emma Mitchell breaks out her crocheted luminous dungarees for the occasion.

Finding a twig in your hair

Illustration by Claire Jones.

It can be a little like Mission Impossible, with added Boden, though sometimes it feels more like an episode of Wipeout laced with the faintest whiff of despair and dry shampoo. Some fortify themselves with extra eyeliner and a bag of chocolate croissants; others go native, if not feral.

I’ve heard it told that some, whom I salute, confront this daily challenge in Tesco jimjams and slippers and pass them off airily as “this season’s Hush outdoor loungewear”.

Of what do I speak? The School Gate of course. The scourge of the addled parent. The threshold of doom where oneupmumship can be so rife that even the most poised can quake in their wedge-heeled ankle boots. Never fear, dear reader, I have made all the gaffes and have lived to tell the tale.

We live in a small remote-ish village where muntjac deer gambol, nightingales tweet and the parish council will dispatch an acerbic letter if the cotoneaster in your front garden needs a trim. A pea-green school bus tours the local Fenny villages each morning collecting schoolchildren as it goes, and deposits them in time for We Plough the Fields and Scatter followed by double maths.

Most mornings we manage the Rice Krispies-clean-pants-pigtails-recorder practice-why are you hiding in the cupboard-Mummy-the-dog-stole-my-flapjack-WHY-HAVE-YOU-PUT-THAT-ON-YOUR-HEAD? sequence of small events leading to legging it across the road to the bus stop on the village green.

Some mornings, though, things take a turn for the tricky, tights just WILL NOT GO ON MY FEET MUMMY, a guinea pig scarpers and hides behind the dog’s bed or (whispering so as not to remember it too vividly) 3579 Hama beads fall from their Tupperware onto the floor in a hateful explosion of rainbow-coloured, cortisol-inducing, teeny tiny pieces of plastic.

“I leg it to the school loos to discover I have forgotten to remove the blue eyeliner ‘experiments’ (resembling dead bats) that my seven-year-old had inflicted on my mush earlier that morning, my hair is the size of a space hopper and there is an actual twig in it.”

A rev of a diesel engine and a green whoosh past the window and my chance to leg it back to the house from the bus stop, mutter 29 swears, brew an extra pot of tea and have an early nap evaporates.

In the following minutes we achieve some of the following (delete as necessary): retrieve and rehouse guinea pigs (while the dog eats the poos they left on the floor), adjust hosiery, replace the flapjack with a Twix (Pah! who needs oats?), remove the cereal box from a small pigtailed head (BUT I WAS BEING A SKYSCRAPER MUMMY) and shovel some of the Hama beads up with a plastic spade. I never remember to look in the mirror but hey, how bad can it be? We generally reach school just in time.

On a particularly fraught morning I stride towards the school door, triumphant in the manner of Boudicca when she kicked the Romans’ arses at overcoming the morning’s obstacles when…“I think you’ve got something on your eye. Perhaps you need a cleansing wipe,” delivered with the tiniest recoil and a slight look that says, “You really are quite unusual.”

Thanking the perfectly coiffed person I leg it to the school loos to discover I have forgotten to remove the blue eyeliner ‘experiments’ (resembling dead bats) that my seven-year-old had inflicted on my mush earlier that morning, my hair is the size of a space hopper and there is an actual twig in it. This twig must have fallen on to my head between the car and the school door. Suddenly I loathe trees and my lack of attention to precise morning grooming.

Have you ever seen One Fine Day? Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney argue a lot and then get off with each other. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine and there’s one scene in which their children are dropped off at ‘daycare’ and it’s a Theme Day. When these two words occur together they can induce anxiety dreams and hyperventilation in parents up and down the land.

“I inwardly plead for it not to be Dress Like A Member Of The Privy Council day because I’m not Michelle Pfeiffer and I don’t have two sets of miniature doublet and hose in my handbag.”

But Michelle conjures superhero costumes from her tote bag with the cunning use of Sellotape, tinfoil and a couple of clean sanitary pads. George’s character marvels at her ingenuity and it makes him fancy her even more. Imagine, then, three female Mitchells legging up to the school door one morning only to learn that Mummy has not read one of the bobillion school newsletters and it is WOODLAND CREATURE DAY to raise money for impoverished harvest mice and weasels who have fallen on hard times.

My children’s faces fall. I am The Mother Who Didn’t. Other parents give me slightly pitying looks while adjusting their children’s strap-on rabbit ears and antlers. Oh fuckety shitsticks. I dash home. I reach for chunky wool, a crochet hook and a fabric pen. I CROCHET TWO RODENT TAILS, fossick for grey tights while muttering Anglo Saxon expletives and turn two white tops into vole torsos by the cunning use of craft graffiti. I may have made snouts out of ice-cream cones, with dried spaghetti whiskers. I may also have taken things too far. I drive the whole shebang back to school and present them to my children, one of whom is crying about how Tabitha ACTUALLY IS A REAL ACTUAL BADGER. I slightly hate Tabitha.

The school gate is made orders of magnitude more fraught by the endless stream of events, special days, outings and themes. The competition between parents for the most accurate depiction of Anne Boleyn on death row is soul destroying. When we miss the bus and we hare from the car to the school door just in time I inwardly plead for it not to be Dress Like A Member Of The Privy Council day because I’m not Michelle Pfeiffer and I don’t have two sets of miniature doublet and hose in my handbag.

I confess the groups of mums huddled in gossipy groups at 8.45am at the school gate make me feel slightly flustered at best. On a bad day I feel as though I’m legging it past cliques of pecky hissy swans. I’m not keen on swans. I’ll wave or say good morning and sometimes there’s no response.

I suppose being the only parent wearing clogs and a hand-crocheted shawl and my gargantuan fright-wig hair don’t help and nor does the rarity of my visits to this threshold of stress. I feel like the village oddity but in a way it makes me feel rather rebellious and a tiny bit self-congratulatory. I would TOTALLY win a shiny prize for being the mother least talked to. Yes I would.

Being ignored by the other mums gives me an urge to crochet myself some ‘eff you’ luminous woolly dungarees and keep them especially for missed-the-bus days. I know a particularly excellent knitting pattern for a hat in the shape of a burrito and I do have some startling twerking moves up my sleeve/jeans.

It’s a few square metres that fills me with foreboding but next time we miss the bus I plan to make the school gate into a one-woman woolly carnival. My daughters may require counselling afterwards but I think it’ll be rather cheering.

@silverpebble

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Written by Emma Mitchell

I make things, mostly out of silver, sometimes out of wool. I’m never too far from a bottle of PVA glue.