Cotswold Mother: Morning is broken

At 8.45am every morning, you will find me charging up the hill with panting children, hoping against

At 8.45am every morning, you will find me charging up the hill with panting children, hoping against hope that the bus driver will wait just a couple of minutes for us - Credit: Archant

It’s me who should get a certificate for winning the daily race to the school bus, writes Clare Mackintosh.

The school has launched a punctuality drive. It’s not their fault: the County Council has descended on them like a ton of text books, threatening all manner of sanctions if the situation doesn’t improve. Targets have been set, stern letters sent home, and the children bribed with ‘certificates of attendance’ if they hit the magic 98%.

Yesterday Georgie came home empty-handed and with tears in her eyes, as her siblings triumphantly waved piece of gold paper. “But I was poorly!” she wailed, so frustrated by the injustice that she could barely get out the words. It’s true - she was ill. They have all been ill, actually - sick bugs rarely discriminate as they sweep through a family – but Georgie’s bouts just happen to have fallen squarely mid-week, whilst the others have succumbed at weekends.

I began to try and justify the lack of certificate to my sobbing daughter, but failed. Because actually it simply wasn’t fair. What’s a parent supposed to do - send a vomiting child into school? Ignore the streaming cold and let them pass it round the class? Of course not. So to penalise a parent - and trust me, placating a child who has missed out on a certificate printed on gold paper is indeed a penalty - for taking good care of ailing children seems a little harsh.

When I was in the police force a scheme was introduced whereby a 100% attendance record resulted in a £100 bonus at Christmas. It didn’t last long, but while it did, hundreds of police officers and support staff coughed and spluttered their way through meetings, dragging themselves into work despite raging temperatures and broken legs, in order to claim their bonus. One colleague of mine began mainlining vitamin supplements and herbal energy products, until he realised he was spending more on trying to maintain his health than he would recoup in reward. It was a daft scheme which slunk away with its tail between its legs a couple of years later.

Of course I want my children to be in school as much as possible. In fact, if you’ve ever seen the way they behave at the weekend, you would understand my enthusiasm for this. So if I can’t do anything about the days off sick - short of pushing fruit and veg on them with the enthusiasm of a back-alley crack dealer - I can at least make sure they arrive on time each day. Easier said, than done.

The school bus leaves from the top of our hill (for ‘hill’, read ‘near vertical climb’) at 8.45am, which means we need to be out of the door by 8.35pm on the dot. Every day. I know this - it’s a routine we have now had for two years. Yet every single morning, 8.35pm sees me frantically pulling on jeans and drying my hair simultaneously, whilst shouting at the children to get-the-lunches-out-of-the-fridge-and-put-your-coats-on-and-someone-find-my-keys.

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I start with good intentions, at 7am when the alarm goes off and I open one eye to check I’m still alive. But somehow, instead of opening the other, I find myself snuggling back down under the duvet, snoozing my alarm with sloth-like prowess. Waking again at 7.45am, I spend the next half hour dragging three children out of bed and chasing them through the various activities they do every day, yet look at me with abject horror when asked to do them. ‘What do you MEAN, I have to clean my TEETH?’, ‘you want me to put on SOCKS?’, ‘No, I haven’t had breakfast - was I supposed to?’

When I think it is safe - the majority of essential tasks are complete, and the children are at least making a pretence to put uniform on - I will jump in the shower, with time only for what my mother would call ‘the important bits’. By this point I am usually still pretty calm. A little smug, even, that this routine is by now so slick I could do it with my eyes shut. Then I get out of the shower and discover that Josh is still standing in the middle of his bedroom, with nothing on but a pair of pants, and Georgie has retired to the bathroom with an alarming air of permanence. ‘I need a poo, Mummy,’ she tells me simply. ‘THERE IS NO TIME FOR POOS!’ I roar, ‘THE MORNING ROUTINE DOES NOT ALLOW FOR POOS!’

Which is why, at 8.45am every morning, you will find me charging up the hill with three panting children, hoping against hope that the bus driver will wait just a couple of minutes for us. It is clear that any punctuality problems involving my children can be laid firmly at my door. Perhaps the school could introduce a reward scheme for me, with the promise of a prize if I make it out of the house on time for an entire term. And a certificate - on gold paper, naturally.

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Article from the January 2014 issue of Cotswold Life Magazine

For more from writer Clare Mackintosh, follow her on Twitter: @claremackint0sh

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