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Back to School

Back to School

I remember at the start of my school summer holidays, many moons ago, lamenting the adverts that would prematurely appear in shop windows. “Back to School!” Who on earth wanted to think about buying a new uniform, pencil case and schoolbag in July? This year, things have been a bit different. Most of my prep for my son starting P1 was completed online, resulting in an onslaught of packages delivered by our long-suffering postie. I now have more grey boys’ trousers in a range of sizes than most high street stores.

“Has the start of an academic term ever been heralded by such a heady mix of emotions? Excitement, trepidation, relief… “

Has the start of an academic term ever been heralded by such a heady mix of emotions? Excitement, trepidation, relief… Certainly, there was a perceptible exhalation amongst a swathe of parents who have spent the last several months balancing childcare with working at home. Many a 2020 video conference was enlivened by a small semi- clothed child hurtling into the room to greet a startled on-screen audience.

The opening of our school gates signalled a welcome return to normality, albeit with staggered start times for the pupils, and face masks omnipresent. My little boy, James, seems to have taken to education with stoicism. His class lines up at the start of each day, standing tall like soldiers. We parents wave them off sentimentally, as if they head into battle. But I am impressed with the nurturing approach of school staff who are initially focusing on wellbeing and getting the children settled. James is happy to go to school and happy on his return home. His only complaint to date: “I don’t like all the learning”.

“We parents wave them off sentimentally, as if they head into battle.”

Life outside lessons continues with myriad challenges for us all. Shopping causes ongoing problems for me. I am starting to accumulate face masks and visors of every shape and size, in my attempts to avoid steamed-up specs. Misty-eyed, I am a liability in Tesco, whizzing down the aisles Supermaket Sweep-style. Holding my breath, I smash and grab my way through the store, coming home laden down with booze, chocolate and little else.

At home, our rooms feel empty without a small boy drawing or playing with Lego in every available nook. After five months of his ceaseless chat and demands for snacks and telly, all is quiet until 3.15pm every afternoon. I’ve always aspired to a show home aesthetic – clear tables, gleaming surfaces, pristine carpet. Obviously, this all went to pot during lockdown, as the whole family stayed in and my house began to look disappointingly lived-in. Now, I have the chance to tidy up – and it’s a joyless task without my little buddy to help and hinder me.

“I yearn for the day when a group of people in the park don’t need to behave like participants in a country dance.

2020 has been different from previous years in just about every way possible. For one thing, it has catapulted me and my other half straight from middle to old age. What with his horticulture habit and my new cross-stitching hobby (it’s a rock and roll lifestyle…) it was but a short leap until we found ourselves playing Petanque on the North Inch. My ‘one hour a day’ outdoor exercise habit has stuck, which I reckon is a good development. However, my daily walks still involve circumnavigating other people as if we were opposing magnets. I yearn for the day when a group of people in the park don’t need to behave like participants in a country dance.

It’s not all been fun and games. Our day-to-day lives are conducted against a backdrop of low-level anxiety. Sometimes I wake far too early, or find my heart beating fast, or I can’t stop clicking on news headlines. I worry about James, who talks about ‘lockdown’ and ‘the virus’ in his childish lilt, as if this was in any way ordinary vocabulary for a five-year-old. Worst of all, my partner gave me the shortest haircut I’ve had since I myself was in primary school.

But for the sake of good mental health, I look for distraction from gloom. I have been enjoying the ready availability of creative arts online, including the Edinburgh Book Festival. Check out their events for adults and children (all free of charge) including Julia Donaldson on Saturday 29th August. Horsecross are also offering valuable moments of culture and community through their keep going together series. And Culture Perth and Kinross not only enables you to click and collect library books but, on request, library staff can choose a selection of books specially for you.

“Often, I think back over the positives from this year…Home-grown carrots, tomatoes and courgettes. Dirt under our nails and flour on the kitchen floor. “

Often, I think back over the positives from this year. I’ve created a photo album to help me remember the long sunny days we spent in the garden, flying a kite at the beach, or cycling on quiet paths. Home-grown carrots, tomatoes and courgettes. Dirt under our nails and flour on the kitchen floor. Waking up to the hirsute Joe Wicks and Zooming across the country. Normal People in strange times. This year has proved a steep learning curve for all of us but, against all the odds, our kids are back at school and that achievement alone deserves a gold star.

Alice Gall
1 Comment
  • Ashly Young
    28th August 2020 at 5:35 pm

    I love reading your insightful writings Alice, as always you’ve managed to convey what so many of us are feeling.

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