Back in September 2014 as a newbie school runner I had no idea that, over the course of the following two years I would experience days that felt like mental torture – the ones when, standing at the school door, it appeared that everyone else had someone to chat to – a close friend or even group of friends with whom to huddle whilst I pretended to be engrossed in my iPhone weather app, tears pricking my eyes.
It felt as though my alienation extended itself to my son who seemed unsure of where he fit in with his class mates and complained of having ‘no friends’. Teachers at parents meetings assured me that this was not the case and that he was sociable and well balanced.
It has become apparent to me over time that there are numerous factors which play into that feeling of alienation. Of some significance I have found, is the physical space where you stand and wait. When JJ was in Reception year his class door opened out onto the main playground – at school run time that can be an overwhelming place to be, with seething masses of adults and children and a great deal of noise. The children of other mums who I had known before they were school age were all allocated to a completely separate class located on the other side of the building.
Gradually, as that first year progressed, I made friends with one of the other mums who was occasionally present and I was able to exchange pleasantries with a couple of others depending on who was or wasn’t there on any given day.
That all changed in Year 1 when the school decided to mix up all the classes and suddenly I found myself starting over – none of the people I considered friends were the parents of a single child in JJ’s new class. Combine that with the fact that the Year 1 class doors are located in a kind of bottleneck pathway used by half of the school to reach the main playground and you have the least sociable space ever.
The other big factor to consider is your level of personal uncertainty. My children’s school is not one of those posh middle-class havens where everyone arrives in a Range Rover. Nor is it the rough school with the bad reputation in an insalubrious neighbourhood. No, it kind of bridges the gap between the classes and I feel like I kind of fall between the lines of belonging. Age is another factor in this – I guess we tend to gravitate towards like-minded people who have at least one significant thing in common with us – be that age or a background that includes a series of leaps through higher education.
I have had a hard time in my personal life over the course of the last year and it has taken a long time for the details to trickle through to some of the other mums who I haven’t had much to do with other than the odd innocuous conversation about nothing much. It finally feels as though people are getting to know me – particularly now I have become a single mum and moved into a new home.
Perhaps having a child in Year 2 in an infants (rather than primary) school helps at this point. You feel like a bit of a veteran. Perhaps it is the fact that I now also have a child in Reception class – and we have been allocated the nice calm class round the back in Reception-only outdoor space which is filled with lovely child-friendly equipment and just feels like a much more sociable space.
Perhaps it is because I have finally become friends with a handful of familiar faces via one means or another and JJ seems to be filled with more confidence around a greater range of his peers. And perhaps it is because, so far, juggling the school run with two children in two different classes has been a little bit busier and felt like less of a groundhog day rat race, but for all of these reasons, this year (so far) feels different, more positive and full of more possibilities.
Fingers crossed that school life continues to improve and for all those newbie school run parents out there – I hope this post gives you some hope that you are not alone even on the days when you feel invisible.