And You Are…Ummmm?!

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Photo Credit: Whitney Lee Photography

School’s back!  The hallway has been spontaneously transformed into a dumping ground for schoolbags, and the kitchen bench has disappeared under a load of lunchboxes. There’s no real homework yet, but after only four days of the current academic year I cannot guarantee what my reaction will be if another book to be covered emerges from Marvel Girl’s backpack…the mere thought of contact adhesive fills me with a vague nausea and sense of impending doom.

There are always a few wrinkles to be ironed out at the beginning of each school year, but in the scheme of things most of them present only minor challenges. So far Marvel Girl has managed to wear the correct uniform on the right day, Miss Malaprop hasn’t yet lost her (extra carefully labelled) new hat, and I’ve managed to track down one of the last elusive copies of the required Handwriting Textbook at the local mall.  (I’m banishing the thought of covering the damn thing yet…I will probably need to perform at least an hour of creative visualisation and yogic breathwork before I even consider retrieving the roll of contact from wherever I threw it in the dark recesses of the cupboard).

But, as I said, these are but trivial trials — nothing that can’t be solved by a single application of brain power, elbow grease or a large glass of red wine.  No, the big challenge is The Name Game.

The Name Game, for those of you who are blessedly unaware of its existence, is that jolly pursuit we parents pursue in playgrounds across the country at the start of every school year.  We begin by greeting our close friends, some of whom we haven’t seen all summer, with enthusiasm — we ask after their spouses, natter on about the older and younger siblings of their child who is in your child’s class, perhaps even mention their dear devoted dog — all by name.  We feel confident, chatting away. We’re upbeat. This is going to be a great year!  I mean, look at me — just look at me — talking away, remembering those monikers, getting it all right!

And then, we turn to say hello to some other friends, or maybe — more accurately — they’re acquaintances.  Their child was in the different class last year, and while we cheerily say, “Hello Hermione!” to their adorable daughter, we inevitably turn to the parents and acquire a slightly fixed grin before asking, “Hi, how are you? How were the holidays?” (perhaps a little bit too brightly) to distract them from the fact that you can’t quite recall their name.  But we excuse ourselves, on this occasion, because let’s face it: the kids are all in identical school uniforms, so you are forced to associate their actual faces with their actual names. But the parents?  Well, it’s quite possible that Marty’s mother was wearing a red spotted top when you meet her, but who in God’s green earth knows what she has on today?

But then you begin walking toward the school gate, feeling a little less poised but remaining ready for the next drop off (at preschool this time…there can’t be too many faces to contend with there, right?) when you bump into a tearful mother of a new kindergarten pupil who clearly knows you from somewhere, and you offer reassuring platitudes and rummage through your handbag to proffer tissues all while racking your tiny brain for some clue as to where it is that you met them (Was it Playgroup? Music class? No…maybe Swimming? Or Ballet?) in the faint and very distant hope that you might recall something — maybe even just the first letter — of their name.

By the end of the week, when you’ve traipsed through school and preschool playgrounds, dropped and picked up kids from a mind-boggling array of extra-curricular activities, and received three invitations for upcoming birthday parties for children you are now unsure whether you actually know, you’ve had it.  Your confidence is shot, the week is a blur of a thousand faces, and you can barely remember the names you once bestowed so lovingly on your own children.  Your sleep has been troubled, as you’ve been jolted awake in the small hours of the night, finally recalling that it was Marissa who had a kid starting at Marvel Girl’s school this year, Marissa who you met at Playgroup two years ago, and her daughter’s name was…oh dear God…what was her name?

Yes, The Name Game gets us every year.  It’s akin to being asked to swallow a baby name book and subsequently regurgitate it in certain combinations at very specific times — basically, when Sally waves at you from her car in the Kiss and Drop line, and you need to recall — instantaneously — that her husband is Paul, that William is in Marvel Girl’s class, that their twins are called Mabel and Molly (not at preschool yet, bless them) and they have a cat called Elvis.  And when you do actually get it right (don’t forget to buy yourself a lottery ticket afterwards), you feel like you’ve just won the City to Surf in world record time or nailed the Croquembouche Challenge on Masterchef.

I haven’t got through the first full week of this year’s Name Game yet.  I’ve already had moments when I’ve only managed to smile and nod at a sort-of-familiar face, and one instance when I actually had to ask someone I know well whether I had correctly introduced her to someone who I knew but she didn’t. It’s becoming abundantly clear that I’m no Sherlock Holmes: if I ever had a Mind Palace, it’s now so full of names and random facts about Disney fairies and every last lyric from Frozen that there is room for no more. But that’s the nature of The Name Game. It gets to you like that. At this point, it’s a wonder that recall what my own name is.

Thank heavens the kids just call me Mum. That, I think, I can remember.

Holiday Bonus Points — A Cautionary Tale

Note to prospective readers: this post may contain traces of nail polish or acetone and could, quite possibly, have resorted to the use of expletives.

Here in the Great Southern Land, the summer holidays are drawing to a close: those longed-for, clear-skied, sprawling days of uninterrupted leisure are now well and truly numbered.  In five more sleeps Miss Malaprop will be back at preschool, and in nine my Marvel Girl will resume school.

Looking back over the past five or six weeks, a large part of me is already veering wildly towards nostalgia.  I have relished my time with my girls this summer, the hours of building jungle hideout forts from shoeboxes, of creating crazy craft and science projects, of swimming every chance we got, of reading books (and more books) aloud, of happy chatter during endless sessions of imaginative play.  I will miss, in particular, the little gems that have dropped into their conversations…“Ants are very capable creatures — I want to get a magnifying glass so I can see how big this ant’s eyes are!” or “Our new cubby house is hotter than a vampire bat!”, or the many sentences that ended with the phrase “this [whatever it was] has been the best EVER!”.

Realistically speaking, however, I admit that my already sentimental recollections of the summer holidays have blithely glossed over the numerous occasions when the kids have not gotten along, or when I have raised my voice, or when one of us — or sometimes more than one — has completely lost it.  We are, none of us, angels (a fact which, quite naturally, reminds me of Sherlock Holmes’ marvelous quote from the superb Reichenbach Fall episode).  But these holidays, I did manage to introduce a new scheme aimed at promoting more angelic behaviour: Holiday Bonus Points.

The concept of Holiday Bonus Points came to me one morning when I was about to launch into my customary post-breakfast tirade about hair brushing, bed making, teeth cleaning, floor tidying or whatever it happened to be that day.  Instead of rattling into my usual rant, I took a deep (supposedly calming) breath and made a proclamation from the middle of the mess that was my kitchen: a Holiday Bonus Point would be awarded to any child who performed a task without being asked to.

Two gleaming pairs of eyes, one dark greeny-brown, the other light greeny-blue, locked onto mine, followed by a rapidfire barrage of questions, and before I knew it, the Holiday Bonus Point scheme was up and running — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was made up and running.  The details were invented as I quickly as I answered the kids’ questions: any child who got five HBP’s before school went back would get a special treat of their choice, but the award — and the possible removal — of points was entirely at my discretion.

For the most part, Holiday Bonus Points were a roaring success: instead of constantly nagging the girls, I was able to (ever so vaguely) wonder aloud whether anyone would get an HBP that day.  Conversely, if anyone was misbehaving, I could warn them that if the infraction continued an HBP might be taken away from them.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the scheme worked brilliantly — until Miss Malaprop surprised us all by being the first to be awarded a full five points a whole week before the holidays ended, and promptly requested a trip to the shops to buy some nail polish.  Specifically, aqua and purple nail polish.  And pehaps a pink one, too.

And here, as you may have guessed, begins the cautionary portion of our tale — the part that begins right after I managed suppress the loud groan that very nearly escaped me when the words “nail polish” were mentioned.  It was, of course, the point when I realised that I not only had to purchase her chosen treat, but that I also had lost the by now almost mythical power of the Holiday Bonus Point scheme for the final week of the holidays.  This flaw, this great gaping hole in my formerly smooth-running system, was brought into particularly sharp relief when Miss Malaprop — despite being told in no uncertain terms NOT to open her brand new five-pack of glittery nail polish until I had finished showering and was able to supervise her — was unable to resist the siren song of the brightly coloured bottles, removed them from their shiny silver packaging, and promptly spilled some of the green (yes, green) nail polish on the carpet in her bedroom.

After a great many tears (hers) and far too much yelling (mine), we managed to resolve the situation. Miss Malaprop’s room still has a faint whiff of acetone, but the carpet is clear and we have both calmed down.  As it turns out, bottles of nail polish are just as easy to remove as Holiday Bonus Points, so the scheme has been salvaged to some degree.  But it was not without a serious amount of trepidation that I asked Marvel Girl (who is currently in possession of four HBP’s) what

The brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in The Reichenbach Fall.

The brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in The Reichenbach Fall.

she was planning on getting should she manage to procure her final point. To my great relief, she simply smiled dreamily and said she’d love to get the fifth book in the Swallows and Amazons series.

We are, none of us, angels, but I think even I can handle that.