I am scared of The School Gates. This is not a rational apprehension because my son is starting school this week and the very fact is causing me nervous, sleepless nights. No, my son starts school exactly a year from now. This is an irrational anxiety based on events so far in the future I can't control. My favourite. The angst I do best.
The thing is, I'm not very good at loitering on my own whilst still looking friendly and approachable (which is precisely the balance I understand one needs to perfect at The School Gates). Instead, I appear stern, a bit frowny and pretend to be busy fiddling with something terribly important. So people tend to avoid me. In actual fact, I'm concentrating very hard on looking like I don't really feel uncomfortable in the slightest (when really I do) and quietly hoping someone might come and start a conversation. Which they don't. And there you have it - a whole bucket load of ironies.
After all, what we mums really want in these enforced-loitering situations is to meet other mums, with like-minded outlooks and reasonably clean children. At the moment, my only experience of loitering is at the practice 'School Gates' (my son's nursery) which I'm treating as a sort of apprenticeship to see what skills I can learn over the coming months. Mostly, I look for completely shallow clues as to who might make a nice friend, so I spend a lot of time checking out 'the wheels' of other mothers. For me, it's a bit like the mum's version of 'What car do you drive?' and what it says about you. If I see a Mamas & Papas Pliko Pramette, I know I'm on fairly safe territory.
But then you have to add the children into the mix. Or as a friend pointed out to me the other day, it should really be about the children: which ones my son enjoys spending time with and who he might like to invite home. But when he selects a kindred spirit and then asks to have them over for the dreaded first play date, it all feels a bit like blind dating on my part; door bell rings, mouth goes dry and you pretty much know within seconds if you're going to get on with this mother, or if it's going to be an hour of stilted conversation about which type of weaning you did and when your baby first slept through the bloody night (I can always lose that one, hands down). Equally, I've spotted mums I like the look of, loitering in their skinny J Brands and Uggs, and have been about to bound over to them like an excitable puppy, only to see their child is the snotty nosed grubby little urchin whose just hit mine over the head.
Like so much of life, I guess the politics of The School Gates is a fine balance. It's a bit about the mothers, it's a bit about the children. It's about making an effort without trying too hard. It's about smiling sincerely not grinning desperately (or frowning sternly!) It's about learning to loiter with dignity and intent.
Since our local primary is in an area where there are more Boden mums than you can shake a catalogue at, I definitely need to be wary of my school run attire before stepping out of the house (see August's 'I Can't Take Me Anywhere' post). So, I have exactly a year to perfect the understated, not-made-an-effort look (which takes more effort than any other look). Oh, and to learn how to smile in public.
Wish me luck.