Back to school bittersweet

02:54, Feb 03 2014

Back to school.

No-one wants to stand under the peach tree to have their photo taken.

Every year it's the same.

One of the boys has marmite on his new school shirt already. Miss 14 is worried her hair isn't OK. Someone has misplaced their shoes.

We're running late and it's only the first day.

This year it's different though. Miss 5 starts school today.


This year all four of my children stand together in their uniforms under the tree to have their photo taken by mum.

But only Miss 5 really wants to be there.

She was up and proudly dressed in her new uniform by 6am.

''Can you help me with my socks please?'' she asked.

She is fussy about the way the stitching on her socks rubs her big toe.

''And put my hair up like a big girl, a pony tail please''.

Making lunches - Heart-shaped sandwiches for Miss 5. People shapes, using a Gingerbread man cutter, for the twin six-year-old boys. Small discreet squares for Miss 14.

In a first-day-back tradition, I cut out four heart shapes in paper and write individual notes for each child that I pop into their lunchboxes.

To avoid any potential teen embarrassment, I write very small on Miss 14's and hide it under fruit. She'll probably never find it.

On Saturday she had sobbed so hard that her whole body wretched: ''Why can't I be naturally beautiful like her?'', gesturing through her tears to Miss 5 who skipped past clutching a My Little Pony, blonde curls swaying, tanned legs pumping.

''What's the point of life?'' Miss 14 hadcried. ''I go to school for what? To go to work for the rest of my life day in day out?''

I struggled initially to reply. Kid had a point.

She didn't want to go and get her stationery as her fringe wasn't sitting right.
Who'd be a teenage girl?

''I'm ugly,'' she sobbed.

She of peaches and cream complexion, long slender limbs and acres of hair so golden it looked to have come straight from the story of Rapunzel she loved when she was 5.

I tell her she is beautiful inside and out.

I tell her that society's obsession with making women believe that ''beauty'' is visible ribcages and Botoxed expressions is ridiculous and laughable once you see through it.

Beauty, I tell her, is not one particular look or size but a rainbow of all looks and sizes.

''At least I'm not Lorde,'' she says, ''thousands of people tell her she's ugly online when she's got the most amazing hair.''

She sighs again at her fringe which is still refusing to lay flat.

PaperPlus Sunday 4pm.

''I need a protractor, well I don't need one but they want me to have one. Needs and wants are different things,'' Miss 14 harumphs.

We hunt everywhere for the half-circle of plastic.

''Three 1B5s and two 1B8s,'' she reads off a neatly handwritten list.

There are two different types of 1B8s, one with holes, one without.We get one of each.

This morning, under the peach tree, all four of them stand. One boy has marmite on his top.

Her fringe is finally flat. ''I'm not smiling,'' she says.

Miss 5 grins wildly, her schoolbag dwarfing her tiny frame.

8.37am from the backseat of the people mover: ''I'm a little bit nervous,'' Mr 6 says.

For the first time since birth, the twin boys separate today.

''I'm in Room 12,'' says one.

''I'm in Room 17,'' says the other.

''I will come find you at play time,'' they chorus as one.

Have we done the right thing separating them this year?

I am anxious.

''I'm a little bit nervous, too,'' I say to no-one in particular in the people mover.

The Big Day is finally here.

Miss 5 gives me a ''loveheart kiss'', hugs me tightly and scampers excitedly over to the mat where she sits crosslegged and arms folded.

I linger a little bit too long, staring through the window into the classroom at her.

The Press