System Failure

GET A GRIP shouts the slogan on a leaflet Milk brings home from school. It’s from the council, aimed at parents who keep their kids off when they are sick, or take them on holiday during term time. It threatens fines and educational neglect.

My husband and I don’t like being told what is best for our kids by strangers at the local council. The leaflet is now in our recycling bin terrifying the egg cartons.

Milk is a summer baby and is four years old, so doesn’t legally have to go to school until September 2018. We decided to see how it went but since he has started school his behaviour has changed so drastically, I have to keep checking I have picked up the right child on the way home. I have worked out there are now two versions of my four-year-old.

Some days I am convinced the teacher has handed him a bag of sweets moments before releasing him into my care. He bounces out and chats all the way home. He tells me he is the cleverest and kindest kid in the class, and everyone likes him because he knows the most about dinosaurs.

I can handle this egocentric hyped-up Milk, because a lot of the time I am faced with the alternative.

The alternative Milk is where I imagine the teacher has put a hoover into his ears and sucked out his brains and then rubbed his face in felt tip pen. This Milk has also lost his normal voice and whines like a dying dog.

“What did you do at school today darling?” I ask one day as we trudge home, his coat hanging off his shoulders. Mayhem is contained in the buggy with a packet of rice cakes.

“Don’t know.”

“Did you play with your friends?”

“I told you I don’t know.”

He plods along in his clunky black school shoes.

“When can I have a fun day mummy?” he asks, at the half-way point.

I think of all the five-year-olds in his class who have had a year longer playing at home.

“Err, at the weekend we are going swimming.”

Milk stops walking and stamps his foot. His voice turns into the perished dog.

“I don’t want to go swimming! I want to have a fun day, and you said we are going swimming and I don’t want to go swimming because I don’t like swimming and that is not fun.”

He is sobbing. Cars pass us and the drivers think I have lost my temper or told him his rabbits are dead.

“Ok. Ok. We won’t go swimming. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” he chokes, his huge blue eyes brimming with tears. “What did you do with Mayhem today?”

I make my day sound as boring possible. “Nothing really. I did some washing, Mayhem went to sleep, the Sainsbury’s man came, and then I picked you up.”

Milk’s face crumples. “I wanted to see the Sainsbury’s man,” he wails.

“Err OK. Sorry darling”. I stroke his hair carefully in case that also escalates into an international incident.

“I wanted to see the Sainsbury’s man. I wanted to see the food and wave to him.”

“Food,” says Mayhem waving his rice cake.

After an intense negotiation we reach our garden gate, which I shove open while steering the buggy with one hand.

Milk shrieks. “I wanted to open the gate, and you opened the gate, but I wanted to open the gate!”

He is beside himself.

I don’t say anything. I am not sure if even breathing would be a good idea right now. I wonder if my husband will arrive back and find us all lying on the floor screaming and me refusing to send Milk to school ever again, but all I can hear through the hysteria is a big stern voice.

Get A Grip.


Author: Felicity Cousins


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