Hooray for school uniforms. Or not.

So, the kids are back at school. I now have two full-time school boys. Setting aside the ‘wahhhhh, my baby is grown up and gone, I miss him so much, wahhhhhhhh, he’s too little to be at school all the time, wahhhhhh, oh feck it’s 3 o’clock I’m going to be late to pick them up, sheesh that school day goes quickly doesn’t it’ issues for a moment……… two little school boys means even more school bloody uniform.

I have issues with school uniforms. I’m pretty sure all parents do. It’s not that I don’t agree with it in principle, I kind of get that all the pupils wearing the same instils a school identity and makes the kids look smart(ish). Although I’m not wholly convinced that they wouldn’t learn just as much, and be more comfortable to boot, in a pair of joggers and a tshirt.  At my primary school there was no uniform and I turned out OK. Oh wait, there wasn’t a uniform at my primary school UNLESS your mum was a teacher herself and sent you to school in a pseudo made up uniform of her own invention. Not even making that up. They all had cool brown cuordoroy flares and a tank top on (it was the late seventies after all) and I had a random school dress. Rocking the non-uniform uniform. Non-conformity through conformity. I seem to remember quite liking it. Even after I had put a hole in the back of it climbing underneath a barbed wire fence and it was patched up. I think this had something to do with the fact that I read so much Enid Blyton I was obsessed with boarding schools and they loved a uniform.

OK – back to the present day. How much school uniform do you buy for your kids? I was utterly gob-smacked when a mum at school said hers only have 2 sets of uniform each. My children have messed up their school uniforms before they even leave the house in the morning. When my eldest started school I used to give him his breakfast in his pyjamas and then send him up to get dressed. It was a disaster. He would go back upstairs and I would go to check on him 15 minutes later to find him sitting with one sock on and a sweatshirt on his head in some kind of turban style playing with some hot wheels cars and a dinosaur. If I refuse to let them come downstairs until they have their uniform on then at least their hunger for breakfast sustenance keeps them roughly on task getting their clothes on. It does mean that they are covered in jam, weetabix, toothpaste and milk by the time they leave the house though. I’m pretty sure their teachers think that I use breakfast cereal as a new and avant garde alternative to fabric conditioner. Although to be fair, why I bother actually sending them in to school in a clean uniform each day is a mystery. I don’t need to ask them what they’ve done at school because through some cunning clothes forensic archaeology I can determine exactly what paints/pen that they’ve used, if it’s been PE then they will possibly be wearing someone else’s shoes or have their clothes on backwards (particularly special to put a polo shirt on backwards and not realise) and their dinner choices are clearly reflected in the stains. Luckily the school uniform is cheap at our school so they have a sweatshirt for each day of the week and thanks to the beauty of unethical child labour in other countries (that was meant IRONICALLY people) the price of a polo shirt in all the major supermarkets makes them akin to a Jay cloth in their disposable nature.

Who in God’s great world decided that WHITE would be the best colour for school shirts/polo shirts? White. I ask you. Would you dress your child in white for any event other than their own christening? No. Hell, since having children I don’t think I own a single piece of white clothing myself.   Not only do they show every last speck of the muck-fest of the school day, you can’t wash them with your other laundry and then, because you no longer own any pale colours, you have to do ridiculously tiny white loads of laundry with unfeasible amounts of Vanish in them just so your progeny can look like a tiny bank manager. I actually think HOURS of parent’s lives could be saved by all school kids switching to black polo shirts. Navy at a push.

Just shopping for the uniform is a pain in the arse too. If you buy it at the beginning of the school holidays, when all the shops have every single size available, you run the risk of them having a humungous growth spurt over the summer and it not fitting come September. If you leave it too late then the shops are guaranteed to have sold out of the size that you need.   I thought I had everything the boys needed in plenty of time this year. Indeed I was smug about it. On the very first day of the school holidays I had washed and dried the PE kit and put it all folded neatly back in the PE bag. The day before school started I double checked the PE bag only to find that the pumps were a size and a half too small. They’ll have been too small for the best part of last year too.   Upon questioning why he hadn’t thought to mention it my eldest said that as long as he hadn’t needed to move around too much in PE they hadn’t hurt ‘too many’ of his toes.

The ideal way to spend the last day of the school holidays is to drive around every shop in South Manchester trying to locate a pair of size 13 school pumps. After a summer of wearing crocs or sandals, upon trying the few pairs we could locate on he did a walk in each shop akin to a Chinese woman in the late 18th century who had just had her feet bound, before collapsing to the ground theatrically declaring that they all hurt his feet too much and he was happy to do PE in bare feet. Apologies to any M&S shoppers who had their browsing interrupted by a rather loud argument about whether white pumps were only for girls or not. A particular apology to the old man and his wife who had their trolley hit by a 6 year old hurling a white pump across the aisle whilst shouting ‘I hate shops’.

Labelling the bastard uniform is also a job of unrelenting misery. The first one you do makes you have a ‘look at me I’m a real mum now’ moment (because obviously the first 4 or so years of your child’s life you feel like a massive imposter) and then all the ones after that are tedious. I’ve had sew in ones – which take forever. Have used the sharpie method on things and now have iron on tapes.   Some genius on facebook shared her top tip for ‘ironing’ them on with hair straighteners. I think I was a bit tentative with this method mind you, as some have come off already. Possibly my reticence to somehow transfer the names of my children and a picture of a bike onto my straighteners and therefore my hair played a part in this.

Anyway, by week 3 you wonder why you bothered anyway. How is it possible for them to lose so many clothes at school? How can you lose your own trousers? Admittedly I did once lose my own school skirt after PE once but, in a scandal unbeknown to rural 80s Dorset, it turned out that it had been stolen by a girl envious of my long a-line topshop grey skirt (which I had saved my allowance for). Her criminal school uniform larceny spree soon came to an end when she wore said skirt to school. Why steal something you can only wear to school? Justice was mine all mine. I was reunited with my topshop finery. I don’t think small children have such criminal tendencies mind you, they are just small foolish things who have a lot to learn (errrr, hello, if they didn’t then they wouldn’t be at school?!) and when faced with a pile of grey trousers which all look the same they just grab any old pair.   This I can understand. What I can’t understand is who exactly are the parents that just keep the uniform that isn’t theirs? Who is it that when they’re doing the washing thinks ‘well it says Emily Smith in the label but hey my Billy wears the same size so fuck it we’re keeping it’. Who does that?

Just getting them into their uniforms in the morning is somehow ten times harder than getting them dressed on any other day. In the school holidays I would send mine upstairs to get dressed and within 10 minutes they would return in approximately the right number of clothes. Admittedly some of the colour combinations would make Stevie Wonder’s eyes hurt, but hey clashing is the new matching in some fashion circles. Or so I’m told.

My children are massively different to each other. Despite being very different to my own sister this still surprises me. Having two boys in less than two years I just assumed they would be similar. Nowhere is this illustrated more than with school uniforms. My eldest, and I’m not at all exaggerating here, until he was 6 would only get himself undressed if it didn’t involve using his own hands. His method for pyjama trouser removal was to writhe around on his bedroom floor using some kind of friction method. A very unsuccessful method I might add. At least twice a week he still puts his school trousers on back to front. He will also have got his head stuck in his polo shirt by attempting to put it on without unbuttoning it and then had massive screaming hysterics that he can’t see. He also likes to wear his pants back to front and I’ve given up making him put them on the right way because frankly life is too short.

My youngest, Mr Independence, won’t let you help him at all. Since pre-school he’s insisted on doing every single button himself. This takes FOREVER. If one pesky button eludes him he has a perfectionist hysterical meltdown which he can only snap out of by laughing at the sight of his older brother staggering around the landing wearing back to front pants and a polo shirt stuck on his head screaming ‘help, help, my eyes aren’t working’.   Although this morning the little one was taking a while, when I went into his room to chivvy him along I found he had taken all of his socks out of his drawers and was thumping them each in turn shouting ‘get back in there you naughty socks’ and then he started thumping his own bottom.

*wonders if I have particularly weird children, or are all families similarly bonkers*

So, once they’re finally dressed, breakfasted, cleaned teeth then there’s the final push towards assembling what they need to take with them.   Water bottles. When did they become ubiquitous? When was it decided that if children don’t have access to a full litre of water each and every day at all times they will shrivel up in a corner with the brain function of a slug that has had salt sprinkled on it? The water bottles will get lost at school at least once a week, leak in the bag on the way to school twice a week minimum, never return home with more than a tiny sip drunk out of them (which actually isn’t a tiny sip at all but the amount that has leaked in the bag on the school run), no matter how you label it the label will come off in the dishwasher, it will get kicked around the playground at least once also. I’m pretty sure that the teachers find them even more annoying than parents do. Book bags. Ooops, remembering that yet again you haven’t read all of this week’s reading books. The myriad cheques and forms that need to be submitted weekly. Until my boys started school I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even owned a cheque book for over 5 years. Now I seem to be writing cheques weekly.

Shoes and coats. They are the daily last straw. They can’t be found, they suddenly hurt, they’re unsurprisingly really hard to put on without using your hands, they’re too scratchy, they want to wear a bobble hat (in July), they were found and now somehow even though nobody has left the hall they’re missing again.

If there is a morning in your house where all of the above has been accomplished without at least one member of the family crying or shouting then I salute you. There hasn’t been one in my house.

Maybe the point of school uniform is to make you so heartily sick of the sight of your children that by the time that 8:50 comes along you cannot wait to hand over the little darlings to their teachers to whom you are eternally grateful.

*Side bar – I wonder if teachers have a special module on their degrees/PGCE that teaches them how to supervise a whole class of 30 children all changing into PE kits and back again? I’m presuming that they are not shrieking ‘for Christ’s sake, how have you managed to get both of your legs into one of your trouser legs and have you woken up so stupid this morning that you didn’t realise that you have put your brother’s coat on by the fact that it’s 3 sizes too small and doesn’t cover your arms????’ Or maybe they just drink gin in the staffroom at playtime*

And I’m fully aware that these school uniform woes pale into insignificance compared to the perils of high school dress codes….. tough times ahead!



Crazy boys and slow cooker rice pudding recipe

My eldest is now 5 and a half. Since he started school in September there are so many things he has learnt to do. He can now dress himself, make choices about food, write more than his own name, follow instructions, play football, make a loom band bracelet, make jokes, chat endlessly, give great hugs, run for hours.

I have written that list in large part to remind myself that actually he’s pretty great – because flipping heck he is driving me INSANE recently. I don’t think that more than half an hour can be spent in his company without one or more of the following occurring. He knocks something or someone or even himself over. He kicks someone, something or even himself. He spills something. He cries. He goes into a vacant trance where you can stand in front of him screaming ‘do you want a biscuit or not?!?!?!? Just. ANSWER. MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE’ with absolutely no discernible effect. He fights with his brother. He comes whining to me about said fight. He speaks in a stupid baby voice saying stupid made up words. He uses the word ‘poo, nappy, goolie, bum, head, smelly’ in any given combination and then cracks up hysterically. He accidentally on purpose throws himself on the ground/walks into the door/ hits himself on the head with a toy.

I’m pretty sure it’s ‘normal’ behaviour for a boy of his age. Through my exhaustive pedagogical research, carried out through play dates with his friends and observations in the play ground I can conclude that yes, other boys of his age are indeed similarly bonkers. Either that or we have a really really bizarre friendship group where all the children are aliens from the Planet Weird.

I’m sure in a few years I’ll look back and think – ahhhhh, do you remember when Corey used to gleefully shout ‘let’s play goolie-bumps’ to Mitch and they commence a very spirited game of running across his bedroom naked with the intention of bashing their goolies against each other? Or what about the time that it took him 30 minutes to take off his pyjamas and at the end of that time his school uniform still only consisted of a polo shirt and one sock? Or what about when he shouted ‘look at my funky moves?’ on holiday and then did a spin to land face down on the concrete with blood gushing from a gashed knee? Actually, even writing them down is bringing a little smile to my face. At the time though I am invariably not smiling. Not smiling at all. Normally I am shouting things like ‘for the love of all that is holy will you just put your bloody uniform on, I have been in to help you ten times now and you will be LATE and EXPELLED and AMOUNT TO NOTHING’. Actually I couldn’t help but smile at their goolie bumps game. Oh I’m so going to love regaling that story to girlfriends they bring home in the future……..

I absolutely hate the fact that when I express concerns to the teachers at school about his ongoing reluctance to read or write they say ‘well he’s a boy isn’t he’. In my opinion that does boys a disservice. Yes, I agree that boys seem to develop different interests to girls from a very young age and learn in different ways – but surely that should be incorporated into the way children are taught at school not just used as an excuse as to why when the little girls are sitting nicely writing a story Corey and his buddies are pretending to whack their heads on the side of the table and then fall over.

He is also going through a mahoosive growth spurt. Actually I think to label it a growth ‘spurt’ is a misnomer as he seems to be on a perpetual growth pattern. Which is only to be expected really as if he stopped growing then that would be massive cause for concern now wouldn’t it. But he is massively tall with long lanky legs. The second tallest in his year group at school. The tallest boy has a dad who looks like a basketball player. Corey clearly didn’t get his height and gazelle like legs from me, more’s the pity.

I have started to notice a massive difference in his behaviour when he’s hungry. He doesn’t actually say he’s hungry but once he’s eaten he seems to start calming down a bit. He is eating massive breakfasts (this morning 2 boiled eggs and 3 slices of toast and a tortilla wrap!) and in the evening he is more than ready for a full cooked meal even though he has a school lunch.

Rice pudding is a favourite of mine and I have enjoyed giving it to my boys ever since they were babies. Now they are older I do use more sugar in the recipe. I think it’s a good energy dense pudding to give them. Making it in the slow cooker is far easier than in the oven. It takes about 3 hours on high (or longer on low) – I do find that contrary to most slow cooker recipes it does need the odd stir now and then so it doesn’t stick to the sides.

Yesterday I made it for us and had some left over double cream in the fridge so added that to the milk. Flipping. Lush. The boys topped theirs with some left over strawberry jam and I went full on OTT pudding with some chopped banana and a dollop of peanut butter. My hubby, pudding purist (or some might say unadventurous) went with it on it’s own. Either way – it’s gorgeous. Hot or cold. As it cools it gets thicker so if you want it the next day then add some more milk and give it a stir.

slow cooker rice pudding

100g short grain/pudding rice (I have made this with risotto rice when I was out of pudding rice and it turns out fine and dandy)

100g caster or granulated sugar

1 litre milk

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Grating of nutmeg on the top (optional but I love the nutmeg taste)

The recipe could not be easier – slop all the ingredients into the slow cooker, cook on high for 3 hours or until the rice is soft and the mixture is sticky and delicious, stir the rice a couple of times in that period if you can. Eat. Add more milk if it’s looking too sticky at the end.