I hate the school run. I hate it with a passion. I hate the way that it rules my day, the way it starts it with a whirlwind when I am hardly ready to be awake, let alone charging up and down the stairs looking for lost shoes and swimming costumes. I hate the way it makes me shout at my kids first thing in the morning. It breaks my heart when I have to wake them up and drag them out of their warm cocoons of sleep, into the harsh, cold day.
I might not feel so passionately about it if my children were a little more biddable. After all, we haven’t far to go to get to school. Since we moved house there is no car to wrestle two awkward boys and a baby into, and the walk is only minutes up the road, but still. Some mornings I feel as if I have climbed a mountain and it isn’t even nine o’clock.
Most of the time I am far more aware of the similarities of my family’s to everyone else’s experience and this keeps me on an even keel, but I had one of those conversations a while ago with a friend of mine, where I realised that my life isn’t quite as normal as I usually persuade myself. We were having one of those moans you do about the school run that probably included the difficulty of the violins, and the dinner money, and the homework, and the packed lunches on particular days but not on others, and the scooters, and the bikes, and I happened to mention that I wished my daughter would get herself dressed. My friend looked at me in complete amazement at this state of affairs. After all, she is 7, and well able to do it herself; it’s just that we sort of fell into this pattern on a school morning, and it got me thinking.
OK. I put my hands up. She is my youngest, and I know that I am guilty of a certain amount of babying. She gets away with far more than she probably ought for the simple reason that she catches me out by growing up just before I have prepared myself for it. But in our family, it’s a little more complicated. There is an added dimension. My younger children don’t exactly have the best example in their big brother.
It’s a difficult thing, to try and put into words the nature of the maturity of my eldest son. In many ways he is just like any other almost teenager. He loves football, he’s becoming more aware of girls, he’s having a go at swearing (he might not get the words right, but from the intonation I have no qualms in telling him to stop or I’ll wash his mouth out). He goes to a secondary school, albeit a special one, and he’s certainly experimenting with the Strop and the Playing of Loud Music. It’s just that the music he plays is ‘musical timestables’, or ‘Welcome to Lazy Town’, and he’s more than happy to watch CBeebies rather than CBBC, Barney rather than The Simpsons.
My middle son finds it the most difficult to handle, this mix of older and younger brother. On the one hand, they know their position in the family. Sam knows that he is the eldest (if not the tallest at the moment), and expects this to be respected, and yet A is streets ahead of him in terms of understanding and ability. In many ways my dear, worried, anxious little boy needs an older brother who can pave the way for him, show him the next few steps. But instead he has a big brother he is heartbreakingly protective of, and who he looks after in his stressy little angry way.
Some things are made easier by the special-ness of my eldest son. Bed-times, for instance. Sam is a lark and no mistake, and there are many times when I have wholeheartedly wished that he would not get up so early, but it does mean that he is more than ready to go to bed at a more than reasonable hour. We don’t have to deal with my daughter asking to go to bed later and later, because the older ones do. The adults still get a nice long evening with complete control over the remote and the best seats on the sofa.
I have a good friend who tells me that her children love coming to my house because when they are here they are allowed to be young. We sit at the kitchen table bemoaning the State of the World Today, while her enormous children ride up and down the hallway on trikes we haven’t yet found a new home for and play musical statues while bouncing on the beds. Thanks to Sam there’s no pressure here to be anything other than who you are. There’s no hurry. We like what we like and we are who we are because wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same?
It’s nice for the little ones that they don’t have a big brother who is pushing them to grow up before they are ready, but just sometimes, I feel like I could do with a bit of help. Because when Sam can’t dress himself without putting on a football kit when it should be school uniform, or shorts when it’s snowing, or at the very least getting them inside out and back to front, why should they?