People who know me know that I am not what you might call a formal dresser. I like clothes, don’t get me wrong, but for many years, the driving force in many, if not most, of my wardrobe choices, has been function over form. I can’t abide being too cold or too hot, or uncomfortable. I hate thin tights. I can’t bear static electric fabrics. I find those events when I have to think about what to wear, like nights out, or the first day back at school, a trial.
I’m alright once I get going. Once the term swings into action I get into a routine. Like my children, I have a uniform in which to work. Once I’ve decided which parts of it I’m wearing that week I am good to go.
The children are the same. Sam’s uniform, despite the change in school, hasn’t changed, apart from the colour of his sweatshirt, in ten years. What he’ll do when he finally leaves I have no idea. He’s more than happy to go up the road with the embroidered badge borne proudly upon his chest.
My daughter is a bit more of an individual. As a girl, she has the choice between skirt, trousers or dress (pinafore or summer checks – although this year it was so chilly she only just made it out of her trousers). She enjoys wearing her wildlife socks. She particularly enjoys the days when her socks are cheerfully odd. It started in celebration of her brother, and, thanks to my inadequate laundry system, continued well beyond the month of March. Who wants to wear boring socks anyway?
Every summer, I stock up on uniform items; they have invariably grown out of shoes and to the shops I must go, and swallow and dismiss any thoughts I might have had that I might get something new, and more recently, each summer I have an argument in the shoe shop. Like my parents before me, I am finding myself increasingly at odds with my children over what constitutes appropriate footwear.
Not for them the attractions of the man-made leather white stiletto, oh no. Not for them the electric blue kitten heel. No, the object of their desire, for 2 and 3 anyway, is the Velcro fastening.
Now in theory, I have nothing against Velcro shoes. On Sam’s behalf I am very glad that they now go up to size five and possibly even size six. He struggles with more than the first part of tying a bow, and the existence of an easy shoe means that he can put them on himself, without bothering me. Thanks to the continued existence of such shoes, and their enduring popularity, the stigma of wearing them is lessened considerably.
So when I insist that my twelve year old don not the Velcro but the shoelace version I find myself in a bit of a bind. My children, like me, have small feet and both middle and baby child still fit into the easy shoes, no problem. I walk a fine line, when I visit the shoe shop, in explaining why they must have lace ups, and he not, but I see no reason why my younger children should be de-skilled because their brother has special needs.
It’s all over the place, when you think about it, the de-skilling of ordinary children. They stay in nappies for years and years, because the disposables are just so good. They don’t know how to cross roads safely because they are invariably driven everywhere. They don’t have to remember their home phone number. They never have to think about the boundaries of their schools because the grounds are increasingly fenced in. No decisions here, please.
But the one that really gets on my nerves is the school tie, and I don’t mean the Old one. Now, I admit I’m not a fan of the tie anyway (despite the fact that my dad loves them and has a vast array for every occasion), but if you are going to insist that children wear the things, at least make them wear a real one, not some sort of clip on horror that not only looks ridiculous but digs in the neck as well.
Because it seems to me, in my humble opinion, as it were, that the solution to the problem of kids misbehaving with ties, is not to take them away, or make it impossible to tie it too tight or too loose, but to get on with the difficult business of expecting children to rise to the standards you have set them. The way to help children behave at playtime is not to take it away from them. The way you learn to do something is, funnily enough, by doing it.
Maybe, in our busy, pressured lives, rushing around as we are, filling this in, planning for that, paying this bill and that one, the hours spent at work, not at home, the hours spent thinking and planning for teaching and filling in forms and data trackers afterwards as opposed to actually doing it, that the effort of getting children to learn stuff, like boundaries, or bedtimes, or tying shoelaces or ties all feels like too much like hard work.
I think we’ve got our priorities wrong. We do far too much taking away of learning opportunities.