Nothing familiar about the return to school this year – apart from the chaos

School looks a lot like last year, though I’d hoped it might look more like school of old

All things considered, the summer holidays seemed to whizz by. That’s not to suggest it was all a barrel of laughs or filled with easy free days of smiling kids that meant we hardly noticed the time passing. Summer holidays are a different experience to those of my own childhood in an urban housing estate where the front door flung open first thing in the morning and we baled for the hills – well, the green directly opposite our house – barely daring to return inside again during the day, in case we were kept in.

And all the kids on the road played together – endless games of rounders, til someone’s mam ruined it by calling them in for their dinner and rendering team numbers unequal.

Of course, the one common denominator of the time, was that almost every mother in the estate was a stay-at-home parent, and so with summer camps and the likes being few and far between there were always plenty of kids to play with on the road. Things are different these days, but I have birthed my own version of rent-a-crowd to compensate for the days when the pals are otherwise occupied. This, some days, is a good thing and other days a bad thing – it depends, really, which way the wind is blowing and who has breathed on or looked at who that morning.


And so here we are ready to go back to school. Every year I promise myself I’ll get organised earlier in the summer and ease the pressure I feel in August. And every year I don’t. I am a creature of habit.


So the chaos in the build-up to the return is familiar. Nothing else is yet, though.

School looks a lot like last year, though I’d hoped it might look more like school of old. I still gasp when I consider that my child heading into second class has had only one full year of primary school while the one heading into third year has never had a full year of secondary. There are some ages when the disruption just seems more noticeable.

This year another one joins the secondary gang. There is so much to adjust to in the transition at the best of times – in pandemic times, even more.

Mind you, she who spent her entire second year of college and a significant portion of her first year streaming lectures in her bedroom, looks as if she’ll be back on campus, and for that I am very grateful. It’s hard to think of your own college experience and not feel very sorry for those deprived of similar. These are once in a lifetime experiences, about so much more than just course content.

All of which means I am facing an adjustment too. For the first time since March 2020, I’ll be home alone for some of the day, once, that is, I’ve completed several different school runs with children all due to start at different times. My head is in a spin at that prospect already.

But silence beckons come mid-September and the home office can relocate from the front of the Ford Transit to my diningroom table once again (none of your fancy ergonomics here).

Pesky kids

I imagine things will feel somewhat less stressful from there rather than the front of the Transit strategically parked in front of the playroom window to facilitate clearly visible wild gesticulation and silent threats at any rowing children from the safety of the driver’s seat while conversing live on air. Us work-from-home mothers are nothing if not innovative.

Will I miss any of it? Not even the tiniest iota.

Which is perhaps why the return to school feels so different this year. It’s as if they were only back in the school building when they were off again – perhaps because that really was the case for some of them.

We’re all ready for the return this time – even the queen of over-sentimentality herself. Rather than lamenting the weeks passed and the fact that those pesky kids are another year older, as I usually do, I have my eye firmly on the prize – getting them back to school and keeping them there.

So it’s deep breaths, head down and get on with it. I’m not sure I’ll confidently breathe out again until summer 2022. School closures are the new Leaving Cert dream for parents.

The countdown is firmly on. Lunchboxes at the ready. The stationery is fully labelled ahead of certain loss within the next fortnight. The copies are covered and the school apps downloaded.

Now, if only homework could be deemed a public health hazard.